Gabriela finds her true calling with social work

ACU student Gabriela has always been passionate about helping people. This year, she helped form the Coronavirus Relief Project, uniting and supporting the Brazilian community during the pandemic.

Gabriela Cabral da Rocha Weiss has studied on three continents yet it wasn’t until she moved to Australia that she found her calling with social work.

Brazilian born Gabriela has just finished her third year of a Bachelor of Social Work at ACU.

She always knew that she wanted to make a difference and help people, instilled with strong values from a young age.

“Growing up in Brazil, my parents were strong believers of Spiritism, a religion where they believed we have to do our best to make the world a better place, help the disadvantaged and if you’ve got even a little privilege, you should use it to help others,” she says

After working and saving for a year after high school in Brazil, Gabriela spent five years in Europe where she worked and studied geology in Italy. When she moved to Australia and discovered social work, she realised that she could make a living and a career out of helping people.

“I feel like it is something I’ve wanted to do my entire life and so far, I’ve really enjoyed my course and I’m so happy with it,” she says.

She loved the first two years of her degree studying face-to-face on the Strathfield Campus, so it was a huge change in March when classes went online due to the pandemic. It was the honestly from the teaching staff that Gabriela really appreciated, as it was a new world for them too.

“The lecturers and tutors did really well at adapting to a completely different form of teaching and finding alternative ways (for us) to complete projects online, such as community engagement. They were really supportive and accommodating. If you emailed them, they always got back to you so quickly.”

As the pandemic progressed, it became a really challenging time for Gabriela, especially as she worried about her family back in Brazil.

“At the start I was happy to stay home and not worry about commuting, but towards the end of the year I’d had enough of being at home and it was quite stressful, especially with how bad things have been back home.”

Always thinking of others, Gabriela has been active in making a difference throughout the pandemic. In March she co-founded a non-official project which provided support for the Brazilian community in Australia, The Coronavirus Relief Project.

“We were able to provide free support to Brazilians through the hard work of so many volunteers. We had counsellors and psychologists provide their services at a time where stress was really high, as well as nutritionists and personal trainers who were able to provide advice on affordable healthy meals and home workout routines.”

The project also donated over $2000 worth of food vouchers and 130 basic food baskets, directly helping more than 250 Brazilians in need during the height of the pandemic in Australia.

Currently volunteering with Sydney Alliance, Gabriela is co-chair of the Oz International Student Chapter and leader of the Voices for Power – Sydney Alliance.

While undertaking an internship in her second year of studying, she was offered a paid position when the co-ordinator left and gained six months experience working with refugees from Africa.

“I knew the project and was quite involved so they offered me the role, it was a great experience and I learnt a lot.”

“One of the great things about (working in) social work is the different areas and opportunities that are available. I’m interested in working in child protection, and that’s where I did my first placement. I’ve always been passionate about women’s rights, gender equality and fighting domestic violence. I will have the opportunity to move around in my career and do all of these things.”

Gabriela has worked with helping migrants and international students and says these are also pathways she would like to follow.

From international student to permanent resident, Gabriela has become heavily involved with the community since arriving in Australia and putting herself out there in a way she hadn’t before.

“I’ve been involved with a number of different projects and I’ve been networking and meeting a lot of people, it’s very important to create that network in a new country as you start with nothing when you arrive.”

She says it can be quite tiring but she’s always looking for new things to do and experience and it’s worth it.

“You’re always doing your best, partially because you don’t have family to fall back on when you’re in another country.”

As for 2021, she is looking forward to a doing her professional experience field placement, hopefully in a regional town, where she can work with the community and gain an insight into the every-day life of her future career.

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