Helping remote communities to access education

Moving away from your home, family and culture can be incredibly difficult. For Department of Human Services ABSTUDY Travel Officer Emily Strok, it meant a world of opportunity.

Coming from the remote community of Thursday Island in the Torres Strait, Emily’s mother made the choice to send her daughter to boarding school in Queensland to give her a higher quality education.

She was able to do this thanks to the financial assistance of ABSTUDY – a means tested government payment that helps Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians with a portion of the costs of studying or an Australian Apprenticeship.

Emily in Year 10.

“Mum was a single parent working two jobs and raising five children,” Emily said.

“ABSTUDY helped to relieve financial stress, and contributed towards our tuition, boarding fees and travel expenses.”

After graduating high school Emily completed a qualification in Travel Retail Sales. She then moved to Cairns where she joined the department through its Indigenous Apprenticeships Program.

“It was always my dream to work in travel in some way,” Emily said.

“The Indigenous Apprenticeships Program was a great way to get a foot in the door with government employment.

“After successfully completing the year-long development program, I moved into the ABSTUDY Travel Team.”

Emily has been in the role for six years, where she makes travel arrangements for current ABSTUDY boarding school and university students.

“Having access to ABSTUDY gives kids the opportunity to have the best of both worlds,” said Emily.

“ABSTUDY allows boarding students to return home during the school holidays.

“It means they can be with their family and maintain their culture, but also seize the once in a lifetime opportunity to get an amazing education that might not be available locally.

“I remember flying home myself to spend time with my family, and it’s great to help other Indigenous kids to do this too.”

While Emily manages travel arrangements, ABSTUDY payments for tuition and boarding go directly to the school.

Althea in Cape York, Far North Queensland.

Althea Collins is an Enrolment Officer and manages ABSTUDY payments for Mount St Bernard College, a boarding school in Herberton with a high number of students from remote Indigenous communities.

“We have students attend from all over Cape York, to the Torres Strait, Gulf Country and Northern Territory,” said Althea.

“I remember one student who came from Coconut Island in the Torres Strait who attended for her whole five years of secondary education.

“When she finished Year 12, she went on to Cairns to undertake further education and now lives back home in the Torres Strait where she works for the local council.

“ABSTUDY gave her access to opportunities she would never have been able to get living on a remote island.

“The students and their families are very brave to be able to look into the future and send their kids away at a young age to get a better education.”

Althea with past student Susannah Mosby and her father Ned Mosby on Yorke Island, Torres Strait Islands.

For parents intending to enrol their children in boarding school next year, Althea says that claiming before December will give them the best chance of having payments in place for the new school year.

“Once an ABSTUDY claim is approved and in place we can lodge a travel request with the department to bring them to the school,” said Althea.

“The earlier you can submit your claim, the better.”

As an ABSTUDY Travel Officer, Emily agrees.

“The benefit of having your claim in early means the department can arrange travel and make sure students start school at the beginning of the school year,” Emily said.

“I love my job and working with students as I can help people like me to get the education that they can’t get in their own communities.”

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