“One of the biggest disparities Indigenous people face is not having easy access to education and not actually being aware of the different opportunities available to us. If you level the playing ground, by merit alone, many Indigenous students will take up these opportunities and achieve the successful outcomes.”
I’m Frank, on the right, a proud Torres Strait Islander man and AIEF Alum who has been connected with AIEF for over 10 years. My younger brother, Kai, followed in my footsteps and attended St Peter’s Lutheran College on an AIEF Scholarship a few years after me.
We were raised by a strong mother in a single parent family and she made sure to instil in us a strong sense of kinship and cultural connection. Growing up we spent a lot of time in Cairns with extended family. Given the limited education opportunities available in the Torres Strait, we felt lucky to be able to attend boarding school in Brisbane. We still regularly visit the Torres Strait and maintain our connection to family and land.
Quite quickly we realised that there is no one way of succeeding and there are multiple paths that can lead you to your goals. After our graduation, we chose careers that allowed us to work and make a change in local communities. Education has always played an important role in our lives and, even though we took different paths into our careers, we both knew we wanted to make a difference and support Indigenous people.
I chose to complete a degree in International Affairs and Finance before beginning work with Indigenous Business Australia. Now, I get to teach financial literacy to Indigenous communities whilst still being mindful of their mental health and other limiting factors. I am now leading an Australian first integration of financial and mental health services – something which I am deeply passionate about and think will make a tangible difference for people. I want to help empower Indigenous business owners and help Indigenous families start to build intergenerational wealth.
Connections and networks, I made whilst on my AIEF Scholarship helped me get a foot in the door. A big barrier for Indigenous people is not only the barrier to access opportunities, but also just being aware of what the opportunities are. Indigenous youth really are the next pillar – they are embodying the drive of their parents and grandparents. I am proud that I am now able to create opportunities for young Indigenous people, because they were given to me.
My brother, Kai, chose a different path that worked for him. After Year 12, he completed a traineeship and Certificate III in Business Administration with Apunipima Cape York Health Council. Through his work, he discovered a passion for health data analysis which led him to pursue a career as a frontline health practitioner.
Within Indigenous health there is a lot of chronic disease and for Kai it was important to figure out why these things were happening. For years he would just see the numbers and data without knowing the people behind it. Now community engagement is his biggest thing – he loves being able to actively engage with patients and help to make their healthcare journey more comfortable and manageable.
He tells me that the more he speaks to doctors, Elders and members of the community, the more his understanding grows and he can identify how he can help. To Kai, ensuring that communities are getting the right healthcare advice, and helping Indigenous people achieve a health outcome they never thought possible is one of the best aspects of his job.
Kai didn’t take a linear path in finding his career and passion, but proves that there is no one way to success, there are so many different pathways.
You see someone who looks like you do something and you think you can do it – you know you can do it. I know a lot of families up north that saw families like ours go through college and university and then choose to investigate that path for their kids.
It was the education, opportunities, and connections that were shared with us that make us so passionate about giving back now. Being on an AIEF Scholarship meant that we could pursue our passions and structure our careers so that we can make a difference in the lives of other Indigenous people.
Whether we are helping to facilitate financial support for a young Indigenous person’s next business idea, or providing them with healthcare support during a difficult time – we want to use our education to create a ripple of change for Indigenous communities.
Don’t underestimate the opportunity you are creating by supporting Indigenous education.