Pictured: Claire Todeschini (right) worked as a volunteer teacher at a primary school during her recent trip to Cambodia.
Claire Todeschini is in her third year of studies and has been working as a Community Engagement Assistant with ACU’s Institute for Advancing Community Engagement (IACE) in Melbourne. In this role, Claire works across a range of community programs which help vulnerable people to access educational opportunities. These include the Clemente program, which helps adults from disadvantaged backgrounds to work toward an entry pathway to studying at University.
“I am overwhelmed by the positive impact these programs make," Claire said.
"I can see how when we work and learn together, it can change lives. It has been a big eye-opener for me, dealing with people from all sorts of backgrounds, facing many different life challenges.”
Claire also tutors primary school children from refugee backgrounds through in the Homework Club program.
“I love seeing that we, as pre-service teachers, really can make a difference and support the children in their education. Through creative teaching we can lead them to love learning and aspire to see University as an option in their future,” she said.
As part of her role, Claire led a group of 16 students on a three-week volunteering excursion in Cambodia with ACU’s Live Give Learn program. Education students from ACU taught English to primary school children and teachers living in the poorest parts of Battambang.
“The government only pays for half days of education in Cambodia. This means children whose families can’t afford private school or a private tutor will often be kept at home for the rest of the day,” Claire said.
Access to education can be particularly limited for Cambodian girls, who are more likely to be kept at home to help with chores, or not sent to school, due to the cost.
“We worked in the Children’s Action for Development centres, which are free, and heavily rely on volunteers. This opens up an opportunity for girls to be educated and so the children’s attendance is equal in gender,’ Claire said.
She says working with limited resources and teaching classes with a wide spread of ages and English abilities was both challenging and very rewarding.
“They didn’t have any electricity - so no lights or fans. No running water, a pit toilet, basic buildings, chairs cramped in all over the room. When you have to jump in the deep end and work things out yourself, that’s when you really learn how to do something. The children just loved it, but the volunteers were very appreciative of what they had experienced and it changed their life as well.”
Claire says this practical experience has broadened her approach to teaching and deepened her understanding of the University’s mission to serve the common good.
“I have more of an understanding of other cultures and other religions and other types of people. I’ve learned you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and you just don’t know what people are going through, until you actually talk to them.”
In thinking about her future, Claire is considering career possibilities both in Australia and overseas.
“Being at ACU made doing an overseas trip more accessible, because this trip also counted towards some of my course hours and was conducted outside study times. I have definitely caught the travel bug and my experiences with IACE have really helped me grow as a person. I am more socially aware and think I have an important part to play in contributing to society.”
Claire says her IACE manager, Mary Campbell, has been very supportive as a professional mentor during her transition to working life at ACU.
“As a student, you’re often juggling paid work with study and the work placement requirements of your course. I know students who work at other places and they really struggle to get the time off work when they have to go on placement,” Claire said.
Claire says ACU’s flexible working arrangements have been easy to access: “I’ve been in other working environments that have been less supportive. At ACU, all the information about working flexibly was handed down to me.”
Ahead of International Women’s Day this year, ACU has launched the Gender Equality Strategy 2015-2020, which will further embed flexible working arrangements across the University.
ACU is celebrating the success of notable female alumni who are making a difference in their chosen field on Tuesday, 8 March. ACU staff members are invited to attend these International Women’s Day events on their campus to hear their inspiring stories. For more information and to register, visit the IWD website.