It’s back to school time in Australia’s ‘unfair’ playing field
Imagine being a parent who only wants the best for their child and their education but for some unforeseeable reason you are unable to work – it could be for health reasons, retrenchment or other commitments are keeping you out of the workforce. Once the necessities of groceries, utility bills and rent is paid there isn’t much left over to help fund your child’s potential. You know they love doing woodwork at school but because the subject carries extra expenses you simply must say “no I’m sorry we can’t afford it.”
While having to say no to a child’s potential might be disheartening for a parent, imagine how the child feels when they know they can’t take that extra subject, they can’t do a sport on the weekend, they can’t go on school excursions and they can’t nurture their gift of music because mum/dad can’t afford it. Imagine the isolation and impact this would have on a child’s self-esteem when they know they are different, when they know they can’t participate like all the other kids?
Last year I did some contract work at the children’s charity The Smith Family and some of the stories I heard were simply heartbreaking. The parents that I had the honour of speaking with gave me a very deep insight into the despair they felt knowing they couldn’t properly provide for their children’s education. Most of the parents that I spoke with were either full-time carers or were themselves facing health issues that firmly locked them out of the workplace and their children out of achieving their full potential.
There was one sick mum who was left to look after three young children after her husband passed away from leukemia. Because of her own ill health she was confined to her bed and could only watch helplessly as her children stumbled through the limitations her family situation created. Whilst the barriers were huge the hope that she had for her children’s education was massive.
Before having the privilege of working at The Smith Family – one of our most treasured and respected children’s charities I had a warped sense of belief that some parents simply didn’t care about making progress in life. But my experience at the charity was like a sledgehammer of reality, I saw that parents cared deeply but because of health or other reasons they were prevented from providing their children with opportunities to feed their potential.
I still remember the stream of tears running down my face when I spoke to one father who over the phone offered me his heartfelt gratitude to The Smith Family. It was only two years ago that he lost his wife and was retrenched. Left with the responsibility of three children and no money he turned to The Smith Family who gave his children the gift of a brighter future. A social worker provided emotional support and a sponsor ensured the children could go to school with the right school uniform and text books.
I loved that The Smith Family addresses disadvantage right at its core – it supports disadvantaged children with their education throughout their whole schooling. I discovered that last year 34,480 Australian disadvantaged students where been sponsored from primary school right through their tertiary studies. This meant that one sponsor made sure that one child could afford to go on school excursions, could afford a proper uniform and could afford to do extracurricular activities. It also supported another 112,124 children with its other educational programs.
Whilst these numbers are encouraging there is still more work to be done – there are still over 638,000 Australian children living in jobless families. Children who through no fault of their own start school without the proper tools to get ahead.
The Smith Family believes “every child deserves a chance” no matter what their circumstances or background. So while parents are happily taking their children back to school with their lunchbox full, their new school shoes and new stationery kits spare a thought to the disadvantaged children who are starting school without the right tools to get ahead.
As a mum and someone who spent time working in the engine room of The Smith Family I saw the need and I saw the impact the charity had. I saw smiles being restored and I saw children staying engaged in school and going off to create a brighter future. I hope that we can all work together to give these children a better chance at life and to even out the unfair playing field (or school playground). If you want to make a difference you can at www.thesmithfamily.com.au
Dora Nikols runs Prickly Pear PR a public relations and corporate responsibility agency that specializes in helping companies boost their profile and reputation in the media by helping them find and support the causes and charities they care about.
Visit www.pricklypearpr.com or follow at @DoraNikols