A way forward: Tala’s story
Harry Minas and Arnold Zable
This moving story appeared in the Sunday Age, October 23. Written by Fairfax journalist Timna Jacks. It is a powerful example of why we need to create opportunities for tertiary level education for asylum seekers trapped in limbo on various forms of bridging visas. As the title has it, the story is of a VCE student who ‘defied all odds to sit the high-stakes exam.’
Tala is an asylum seeker, who lost her mother at sea while travelling by boat to Australia. She was rescued, and has overcome extraordinary hurdles in creating a new life as an unaccompanied minor. Her commitment to study, and to the role of mother to her 15-year-old brother, her efforts to quickly learn the new language, and her resilience reflect the life skills and qualities we have seen in many other young asylum seekers, on various forms of bridging visas, who have used their limited opportunities to continue to develop and to prepare to contribute. We have witnessed these qualities in the students who have participated in the St Joseph’s Flexible Learning Centre’s, ‘Asylum Seeker Pilot Pathways Project,’ of which we have written in previous posts.
Like so many other young asylum seekers, Tala’s dream is to create a new life and to give back to society—Tala wants to study biomedical science or nursing. “I want to be a nurse in the Australian navy,” she says. “I lost my mum at sea, and I want to help people to survive.” This is the great paradox—those who have fled oppression, experienced so much hardship, and braved the journey to new lives, often possess the life skills that enable them to seize their opportunities and to thrive.
Such skills, determination and commitment are admirable in any young person. Unfortunately, as was made graphically clear by the recent 4 Corners program on Nauru, even these qualities can be destroyed by neglect, abuse, denial of opportunities for their expression and the consequent descent into hopelessness and despair. Young people such as Tala require access to the sort of support and nurturing provided by organisations such as the St Joseph’s Flexible Learning Centre, and to viable pathways into tertiary education
The Melbourne Refugee Studies Program and several other organisations, including the Refugee Council of Australia, the National Tertiary Education Union and others have been advocating for the creation of such pathways into tertiary education—pathways that will overcome the obstacles that have been put in place by the Australian government, the most difficult of which is the fact that asylum seekers wishing to study in an Australian University are currently obliged to pay international student tuition fees.
We hope that many young refugees will continue to defy the odds and realise their extraordinary potential. We urge you to read this extraordinary story.