The Avenir of Mentoring

She stands up bravely amongst a sea of 100 health students from across Australia. She takes a deep breath, obviously overwhelmed by the emotion of what she is about to say. A tiny shiver visible in her back and arms. The room hushes around her.

"When I was in high school," she begins her story, "there was so little support for kids wanting to complete their high school certificate, let alone for those who wanted to go into university." She told us of how she wanted to be a physiotherapist but was discouraged at every turn. No one from her school had ever been to University before. No one in her family had finished Year 12. She was told that there were opportunities at home to have a good career, but that hiking off the city to do a course was a silly idea. The Careers Advisor didn't know how the system worked. And, even when she tried to work it all out for herself, she'd have to tackle the incredible costs of moving cities and starting a new life, all by herself. Scholarships were hard to find. Mentors non-existent.

I sat in the audience and thought of my own experience. Growing up in the inner Eastern suburbs of Melbourne, it was always assumed that I could do anything I wanted. The sky wasn't the limited - I could go higher.. We were told we could achieve anything. We could invent our futures. That our final Year 12 marks would be amongst the best in the state, that we would have our own success stories. The idea of finishing school before Year 12 wasn't conceivable. And I went to a state school.

It shocked me to think that this girl, with dreams and aspirations not so different to my own, had struggled so much to make it to this room. I was lucky enough to cruise along, to get good grades, get into great universities and have parents who were always incredibly emotionally supportive of my decisions. I was allowed to dream large and thus achieve things outside the realm of thought to many of my compatriots.

I couldn't believe that there was no one to guide these kids in rural areas. That so many had stood up and told similar stories following this one girl. She was not an isolated case, she was the baseline. That so many were deprived of dreaming solely because of their geographical location.

And so I devised a plan to empower students in high school to make dreams, to make them big, hairy and audacious. And to give them the skills to achieve those dreams.

Days and days of brainstorming on my own, with friends, with many of the students from rural areas at the conference, pieced together the concept for Avenir Rural Mentoring. Your Future. Your Hands. Our Help.

Avenir is a French word that means "future". In English we have only one word for that which shall come after the present, in French there are two. Avenir is about the future pathway that you want to take, about your plans and dreams. I like to think that it is related to the word 'avenue' in that one can stroll down either with a sense of belonging and adventure.

Avenir aims to bring mentors 18-30 years old together with classes at high schools in rural and remote regions of Australia. To listen to the students, to tell them about the best and worst parts of life after high school. The idea is not to force each student to go to University - there is little point in pursuing a Commerce degree should you wish to be a carpenter - as a degree should not leave a person 'superior' through a piece of paper. No, the idea is to give these young people tools to dream as big as they are possible and to empower them to reach those goals. To connect them with scholarship opportunities, to help them understand who they really are so that their decisions will build a future of contentment, of pushing the boundaries. To give them the strength to do whatever they want.

Empowering young people can only lead to good outcomes. Strong young people make for a strong nation in the years to come. Young people living in rural areas are no less capable that their city counterparts. Rather, they face more barriers to achieving their goals, making them more mature than the average high school student. They deserve support to reach their potential.

It's our future. It's in our hands. Will you help?


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