For 21-year-old Ashley Nielsen the $3000 grant from Great Lakes Education Fund, a CEF local foundation, means she can eat, pay for text books and afford to pay rent.
“I ended up in hospital my first year at uni because I wasn’t eating, because I couldn’t afford to eat.”
Her local foundation has also given her one thing she’s never had at home, stability.
“I haven’t had a whole lot of stability in my life. It’s nice just to know that if I am struggling with budgets, like rent, that I know they have my back and they are there. It’s kind of like my little family that I didn’t have.”
“(To the local foundation) I can say I have placement coming up and I don’t have any professional attire for my prac teaching, can we talk about different ways we use this money to do that? It’s just nice to have the support.”
Growing up, Ashley had a tough home life. Her mother battled mental illness; and addiction, neglect and violence were the norm for her and her brothers. She experienced hunger, homelessness and grief. But throughout all the darkness and pain, she knew she loved school and learning.
“I loved my teachers. Because I did have so much going on at home, to then be able to go to the school and be able to say this is what is happening at home and have someone to talk to about it made me feel safe,” Ashley said.
Those teachers inspired her to become a teacher herself. Ashley is now in her second year of study at the University of Newcastle. In a few years she will be a primary school teacher and hopes to return to a regional area, like where she grew up.
Ashley is insightful, positive and open. She says she refuses to deny her past, and wants to show her brothers, and others in tough situations, that education and learning is the way out to a better life.
“For a long time I was ashamed of my upbringing and I look back on my primary years and I was embarrassed,” Ashley said.
“I was the kid in the classroom with the dirty shoes and socks. That’s a part of my life. I think now it’s important to recognise that and go, yeah OK this is where I come from, but there are so many kids in school that are still going through that.”
“Just to know that they can go from that and end up going to uni, it’s so important. If I can help just one person that’s been through something similar, that’s what I am about.”
Ashley is a true testament to the CEF family. Her hard work and ambition are inspiring. People like Ashley are the reason CEF exists, and the reason we will continue to play a crucial role in securing great outcomes for country kids.