Proud Biripi man, Andrew Saunders, knows as well as anyone, that when it comes to completing education, getting the right support can make all the difference.
“When I was in primary school, it was a little bit harder for Aboriginal kids in school back then, because there wasn't that much support set up” he says.
Andrew credits his continuing school attendance to his grandmother, Faith, the first Aboriginal education liaison at his primary school. She supported him and constantly reminded him about the importance that education plays in increasing employment opportunities.
Her advice was inspirational for Andrew, who has followed in her footsteps by becoming an Aboriginal Engagement Coordinator at TAFE NSW Taree.
“When I first joined TAFE NSW, it opened my eyes a little bit more to the things that go on behind the scenes with education. There is a lot more done so that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can feel comfortable in a classroom,” says Andrew.
He especially enjoys being able to work with TAFE NSW, helping Aboriginal students feel more supported, and helping to customise courses so that they find them more engaging.
“I know our people,” says Andrew. “We’re immersed in yarns. Storytelling has been a part of our people for over 60,000 years, well over 80,000 years. We communicate through yarning, which is why, in an Aboriginal-based program at TAFE NSW, we do nothing until everyone has introduced themselves, told us who they are, where they come from.
“Blackfellas engage better with Blackfellas. If there weren't jobs like mine to be able to bridge the gaps and foster relationships, I think you would see a huge loss in Aboriginal engagement.”
A big part of his motivation is seeing Aboriginal students respond positively to TAFE NSW initiatives which he has helped develop.
“I think TAFE NSW is the start of something huge for anyone who engages,” he says. “And for our people, it's not just a place where you get a qualification. It's a place where you can connect with other mob and do something great with the people you're connected to and the people you love.”
TAFE NSW offers hundreds of courses, diplomas and degrees with exciting career pathways and flexible study options. More than 30,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are currently enrolled at TAFE NSW.