Founder of A Pot of Courage
Tell us a little about your story.
I grew up in New Zealand and identify mostly as Maori-Croatian, with a fair bit of English and Irish in the mix. I grew up surrounded by cousins, Aunties, Uncles, Grandparents, second cousins…. Always at each other’s houses, large family feasts, heading off in convoy on camping holidays, road trip singalongs and, as the oldest granddaughter in the extended family – I always seemed to be looking after kids. Maybe that’s why I ended up leaving home at 17 to go and study Education – emerging with a Diploma of Teaching and a B.Ed in English and Psychology.
I had a go at teaching (a bit in NZ, London, Wales and Australia), but felt frustrated by the system. Those skills were not wasted though, as employers thankfully saw how transferrable those skills were, leading me to work in the arts, training, project and event management fields. All work that I still love to do.
In 2007 I started working in the refugee-immigrant space, and that is when I really started to feel that I could really thrive and perhaps make a difference. For the past 14 years, this has been my main field of work. I am currently the Team Leader at Centre for Multicultural Youth (Ballarat-Wimmera regions), and I voluntarily co-ordinate the social enterprise A Pot of Courage Inc.
And your purpose...
It centres around teaching my son the values and culture I grew up with, along with the values that life’s experiences have thrown my way. Empathy, respect, the importance of family, understanding the relative privilege he has - as a white male, growing up in a safe country in which opportunities abound, education is available, a roof is over his head and food is always on the table.
I am passionate about identifying others’ potentials and supporting them to pursue their ambitions and innovative ideas. Through my work I can raise awareness of the intersectional barriers that many people in our community face, and how we can work together to lessen the load and help create a sense of belonging.
Who are the women that have made the biggest impact on you and your journey so far? And what have you learned from them?
I have a pretty full on work ethic – thanks to my parents. Although my Mum has now retired, she was a total work machine when we were growing up. Often working two jobs, while raising four kids. We were never rolling around in money – but there was always enough. Enough of everything. We never really wanted “more”. We were thankful for what we had. I think I am still like that. I never really “want” for much, other than care, love, honesty and respect. We grew up with a ‘sharing is caring’ approach to life, along with ‘nothing is handed to us on a silver platter – we work for it’. I grew up with a lot of fun, laughter and song. My Mum, her sister Eileen, my sisters, and Eileen’s daughters grew up almost joined together. We’re still incredibly close. Aunty Eileen passed away in 2011. We continue to struggle with her loss, but her supportive words stay with me.
I am so privileged through my work, volunteering and community connections. I have many inspiring, creative, dynamic, strong women and mentors of all ages and nationalities around me. In my job, I get to work alongside young multicultural women who are pushing the boundaries, questioning, and change-making. In A Pot of Courage, I continue to learn from refugee and migrant women, every single day. It is so incredibly rewarding to see women overcome multiple challenges and barriers, to flourish in new chapters in their lives. Some had lived with family violence in the past, were extremely isolated and depressed. They had lost hope. Now they are public speakers, business women, innovators. They teach me so much about courage, gratitude and privilege.
What does International Women's Day mean to you?
It’s important to celebrate the achievements of women across the globe – who have made, or are making, huge contributions and differences in political, social, economic, environmental, sporting and creative fields.
However, we do also need to hit the pause button and acknowledge that there is still a long way to go. We are still fighting for gender equality and parity, but on IWD I am always reminded of the strength we find in solidarity. Across genders, age, nationalities - we all have a part to play in reaching true equality.
While celebrating IWD, we should also reflect on the many women across the world who are living constantly in fear and danger. At least one women per week losing their life in Australia through family violence is nothing to celebrate at all. A massive shift in culture, attitudes and the way we raise our sons – is needed.
What is your hope for women and girls in the future?
I hope that girls are not still growing up thinking that they are unable to pursue a particular career, due to their gender.
I hope that more is done at the highest level of leadership in this country to make homes the safe havens that they should be for girls and women.
I hope that we are continuing to raise girls who understand the importance of supporting each other to reach our full potential, and enrich each other’s lives.
If you could have told your younger self anything, what would it have been?
Shiree…. There’s going to be big bumps, twists and turns in this road called Life. As stupid as this sounds… you will end up grateful for many of the potholes. They will make you realise how strong and resilient you really are. Just stay true to yourself.