How 'village' helped refugee to achieve her goals
A WHOLE new world was opened up to Mariam Ajang when she arrived in Australia from a Kenyan refugee camp at the age of two.
Her mother Sarah was determined to give Mariam and her five older brothers a better life after fleeing civil war in South Sudan.
The teenager recalls an overwhelming first few days in her new home.
"We couldn't believe it when we first saw a microwave. We'd never seen anything that heated up food that fast," Mariam said.
"And there was so much to watch on TV and a machine that washes dishes.
"But no-one looked like me or sounded like me."
It was a difficult transition and for many years she shied away from it all, staying glued to her mother's side.
Although she had plenty of ideas in her head throughout her early years at school, Mariam lacked the language skills to properly express them and worried peers would laugh if she slipped up.
"I felt dumb and out of place," she said.
But she persevered and started taking books home each day to improve her reading and writing.
Now she is school captain at St James College in Brisbane, which offers fully funded scholarships to migrant and refugee students and encourages students to give back through its volunteering program.
Last year Mariam visited The Origin Foundation, which inspired her to apply for a school-based traineeship with its workplace services team.
It meant she could continue with her studies while gaining valuable work experience one day per week and obtain a Certificate III in Business.
Upon hearing the news, mum Sarah said she knew she had done the right thing by her children all those years ago.
"This has opened another pathway for me," Mariam said.
"It's helping me develop new skills and showed me there's more than one way to reach my goals."
Mariam plans to go to university but is not sure what she will study just yet.
She isn't just a top student, as she also writes her own music, signs, plays piano and plays basketball and draws on inspiration from all corners to guide her.
"Finally (I'm) starting to be me," she said.
She is living proof the impact of having a supportive 'village' can have on a young person's life.
The 'It Takes a Village' campaign being run by the Community Council for Australia in partnership with a range of charities and organisations such as Origin, Mission Australia and The Smith Family aims to promote this ethos.
Community Council for Australia CEO David Crosbie said the campaign is calling on everyone, not just parents and teachers, to play a part in helping young people achieve at school.
"You might be a sports coach, a music teacher, an uncle, a volunteer at a local charity, or even a neighbour," he said.
"If you've got a young person in your 'village' you have a role to play in helping them get a good education and achieving their dreams.
"Each year, 86,000 kids don't finish school, and many more are under performing.
"The evidence tells us that if you don't complete Year 12 your prospects of employment are substantially reduced, and you face a greater chance of bouts of homelessness, poverty, and ill-health.
"There are always going to be students who leave school for various reasons, but the simple fact is the figure is too high."