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Seed Foundation Australia – First People’s Health Programme.

Director of Seed Foundation Australia Michael Gleadow & student Bria Cusack discuss the power of supported education for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island communities.

Seed Foundation Australia supports Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in Northern Australia while they study a nationally recognised health qualification at high school. Its goal is to increase the number of Indigenous people in the health workforce by presenting students with career pathways. And to close the gap of inequality in Indigenous communities overall. It’s a community-driven, holistic approach that improves health, education and employment outcomes for young people.

One of the places the programme is currently running is at Kirwan State High School in Townsville. Here, training organisation Connect ‘N’ Grow offers a Certificate II in Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Health Care – supported by the wrap-around care of Seed – to 15 secondary-school students. One of them is 16-year-old Bria Cusack. Former teacher Michael Gleadow founded Connect ‘N’ Grow in 2012 and is the organisation’s director. He is also the chair of Seed Foundation.

Michael Gleadow: Initially we were one organisation: Connect ‘N’ Grow, which is a training organisation. The birthof Seed Foundation was to provide all of that extra support that’s needed. It could be anything from sitting with students preparing for job interviews and looking at their book work, to the university camp and leadership training. The support is very tailored from place to place, school to school, student to student.

In a lot of the places where we work, health is the last thing on people’s minds. Health in a lot of these remote communities is generally a negative thing. If a family member went to a health clinic, a lot of the time they got taken to Cairns or Townsville, and probably didn’t come back. Location is a big challenge, too. A lot of our kids travel a long way to go to school. Another might be family support; they might not have role models at home who have gone into health. Some of the literacy and numeracy can be a bit of a barrier.

Initially, Bria was quite confused about what she wanted to do. But when she came back from the university camp she was focused and now she’s crystal clear on where she wants to go, and that’s the same reaction we get from a lot of students. We try to make that pathway a lot clearer for them. It’s difficult when you’re at school – if you don’t have the right people guiding you through that process it seems very daunting or very foreign, but we’re trying to take away that guess work and I’ve seen Bria rise to that.

The university camp is life-changing. It’s something that has probably, for a lot of students, been out of reach, and that could be for a number of reasons. Maybe you’re the first person in your family to go to university, or it’s just not a common thing that your community members go to university. So when you get down there and you hear all the positives from the young people and the mentors saying: “You can do it, it’s possible”, I think it has a profound impact on the students. Students like Bria are why we do what we do. We can see the difference it makes in people’s lives, the job outcomes and the life experience.

Community engagement is so important: school-community engagement and engagement with the families and the students. Then we have to reach out to where the students are eventually going – into the industry. That’s where we see the work of Seed Foundation really taking off in the years to come.

This year alone 350 students are enrolled in our program. Of those, 140 want to go into health or social services.

Bria Cusack: Going on the university camps definitely sparked my interest in doing my schooling and doing my best and hopefully going on to university. It’s opened up so much for me. Not only endless opportunities, but in my heart and in my mind it’s left a very big impact on me.

I was the youngest girl in my health class that went, so I’m encouraging all the other seniors to come along this year. It really changes perspective a lot. It really gives you a drive to strive higher because you meet a lot of inspiring Indigenous role models. Before, I didn’t think about uni at all. And now I definitely want to go.

I’ve been doing the school-based traineeship since the start of the year. It gets easier and I have a lot of support as well. Training counts towards the QEC scores. I am currently doing a certificate three in dental assisting.

Before the Griffith University camp and the school-based traineeship I had no sense of direction in my life, but now I feel secure and I’m looking forward to my future so much because I know I have stability and I enjoy what I do. I really want to finish my Certificate III, smash it out and go off to university and complete a dentistry course.

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