ACU (Australian Catholic University)

ACU Alum

Issue 2, Winter 2012

Choosing to hope

It’s a university course for Australians experiencing disadvantage, and it’s changing lives. Caitlin Ganter spoke to Catalyst-Clemente graduate Amanda Kay about the path to coping.

A scientific research facility stands isolated in the frozen wind-whipped land of Antarctica. Completely cut-off from the outside world nine months of the year, it perches on a rocky outcrop bordered by icy seas - for weeks the sun will not rise above the camp.  

This remote research facility was Amanda Kay’s home for a year. An adventurer, Amanda studied carpentry then went on a working holiday around Australia, visiting remote and unusual locations such as Torres Strait Islands, Gove and Roper Bar. 

Five years later, she was ecstatic to land a job as senior carpenter at the remote Antarctica research facility. It was here that everything changed. 

“After Antarctica my life changed fairly drastically,” said Amanda. “I had a terrible experience which left me with post traumatic stress disorder and a brain injury that has made my life extremely difficult.” 

Despite the challenges life has thrown at her, the 39-year-old continues to do what is necessary to improve her quality of life. Strong-willed, Amanda has learnt to cope – largely thanks to the Brisbane Catalyst-Clemente program – a joint initiative between ACU and Mission Australia.

The program provides accredited university courses in humanities subjects such as literature and Australian history as a step towards overcoming poverty and other serious challenges.

It was through these classes that Amanda rediscovered her love for painting, photography, and writing and performing music.

“The Clemente program came into my life while I was depressed. It helped get me out of the house, gave me courage and definitely improved my life and my support network.  With the help offered through caring lecturers, learning partners and support workers I started to believe maybe some goals weren’t as impossible as they had seemed in the past. This was a priceless gift for me.

“The journey to my current ability to cope has included finding out what I want from life, and I want to feel useful and feel appreciated.

“My music is generally about my emotions,” she said. “When all is bleak and there feels like no end in sight I pick up my guitar and write.” 

Amanda lists playing in the orchestra for the television show Rockwiz, and performing for the Dalai Lama, as her greatest musical achievements to date. 

“I’m currently taking time to travel Australia, visit friends and family and play some gigs along the way. My goals are to be useful and surround myself with people who appreciate me, to learn more about jazz, to play and compose more music, to continue with my painting and possibly continue with further university studies.”

 

Catalyst-Clemente snapshot

Catalyst-Clemente is a groundbreaking university course for people struggling with homelessness, mental illness and long-term unemployment. Recent research shows improved health, housing, financial and social outlooks among participants.

The program provides accredited university courses in humanities subjects such as literature and Australian history as a step towards overcoming poverty and other serious challenges.

Subsequently, the way out of poverty is about giving people access to more than just a wage or a roof over their heads, it’s also about engaging them in activities that lead to social interaction, learning and community participation.

According to the study:

• 66% were satisfied with their life shortly after starting the program; 76% by the end.

• 51% were satisfied with their health after starting the program; 65% by the end.

• 60% were feeling part of the community after starting the program; 76% by the end.

• 12% were satisfied with their financial situation after starting the program; 27% by the end.

• 24% were satisfied with their housing situation after starting the program; 36% by the end.

 

Fighting fear

Luke Moroney has severe anxiety, but he refuses to let it define him. Caitlin Ganter spoke to the 28-year-old Catalyst-Clemente graduate from Brisbane about pushing through the fear. 

“Handling anxiety is quite like skydiving - when you’re paralysed at the door of the plane trying to jump. My anxiety makes it feel like every day I need to push through that fear and jump.   

In my experience, the community doesn’t really understand anxiety and the level of tolerance and acceptance tends to be low. But anxiety affects those who suffer it very deeply. It makes every day tasks twice as hard and it would be good if people could try to understand.

I get stuck in a cycle of worry and intrusive negative thoughts force their way into my head, making it difficult to do things other people would take for granted. 

Catalyst-Clemente hasn’t cured me of anxiety, but it’s definitely helped me to have a life. Before the program I felt like I was stuck in no-mans land. I was isolated from society and very depressed, but now, I feel like I have endless possibilities. I have options.

Before I used to see successful people and think I was nothing, now I can look at them and see that I’m equal to them and I am able to succeed. I’m currently at uni studying a Bachelor of Politics, International Relations and Asian Studies. 

I’m interested in politics because I believe in the power of community engagement and I have a fundamental belief and faith in social democracy. I’m now involved and I love it. 

I still have anxiety, but I also have goals. I’m so proud of what I’ve achieved so far, and I know I’ll continue to succeed and fight for what I want.”

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