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Madalene Atkinson speaks from the heart

Madalene Atkinson of CEF Namoi, currently studying a Bachelor of Arts at Wollongong majoring in English Literature,  speaks from the heart of her experience with Country Education Foundation.

As the end of another year approaches with startling momentum, it is easy to find ourselves falling into a state of reflection on what has passed, and the looming threat of a new decade on our doorstep. This year has been record-breaking, but not necessarily in the ways we wanted. With 2019 boasted as the driest year in recorded history, rural communities like Narrabri have borne the brunt of economic and environmental pressure in ways that are incomprehensible to many in urban areas.

It’s these added pressures that make the Country Education Foundation so vitally important for young people in rural areas; without their aid, there would doubtless be an abundance of young adults with the motivation and desire to gain further educational qualifications, but no means to make it happen. Living in the country is a blessing, but it means that, in many cases, kids like me are forced to travel long distances in order to study; this means extra costs – travel, accommodation, and a whole host of living expenses that don’t warrant a thought for our city cousins. It can also be hugely demoralizing. Having to establish yourself as an adult (a real person) in a foreign environment, without an established support network or connections to fall back on can be really daunting, not the least for someone who’s grown up in a small community, where you can’t walk a block of the main street without stopping to say g’day to someone you know.

Having the Country Education Foundation as that support network – helping kids with goals through good times and bad – is something for which I am grateful and proud. Furthering the skills and qualifications, the knowledge, confidence and abilities of our kids is astonishingly important. When given these opportunities, country kids enrich our communities – they’re more likely to return to live and work as skilled professionals in the country than those who haven’t experienced life in a rural community. They bring new ideas; renew interest in old ideas; and create interest and potential in the community as they introduce their experiences and understanding. Country towns thrive when the knowledge of the young, and the knowledge of the ~less young~, work together; build each other up, and strengthen the foundations of the community to which we belong.

In a world that is changing as rapidly as ours seems to be, I think it is important, on entering a new decade especially, to maintain flexibility. What I mean by this, is simply not to become brittlely deaf to new or different ways of doing things. This does not mean we must disregard or discredit the work and knowledge built by generations; it means the opposite, in fact. The knowledge we have now is built by generations – each generation adds its knowledge to its forebear’s to create the wealth with which we are able to live and work and create and know so successfully. It is often very difficult to work intergenerationally, something many of us know from vehement personal experience; grandfathers and grandsons each stubbornly refuse to acknowledge the justice of the other’s proposal, because each knows in his heart that he himself is right. In order to move forward, we must be willing enough – flexible enough – to acknowledge that on many occasions, there is room enough for both to be right. One of my favourite authors, David Eddings, once wrote that:

We base our assessment of the intelligence of others almost entirely on how closely their thinking matches our own. I’m sure that there are people out there who violently disagree with me on most things, and I’m broad-minded enough to concede that they might possibly not be complete idiots, but I much prefer the company of people who agree with me.

It is crucial for the rural communities we know and love to continue to build on their bedrocks of knowledge and experience, in order to maintain their survival and guarantee their growth. The best way for us to do this, is to educate our young people, so that they themselves can educate us in turn. The Country Education Foundation in Narrabri is making a powerful impact on our town, and it is one I am very proud to be a part of. Benjamin Franklin wrote, “If a man empties his purse into his head, no man can take it away from him. An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.” Narrabri is investing solidly in our future, and I hope to be a part of its continuing fruition.

From country kids learning every day, at home or away, thank you for investing in our future. May the New Year bring better understandings, and better weather.