Your passions pave your path

Posted on February 11, 2017

Last week, past student, Michelle Wylie (Class of 2010), shared some of her story with students, staff and family members at our Honours Assembly. Since leaving St Paul’s, Michelle has embarked on an incredible journey of selfless service to others. Michelle currently works with Asylum Seekers and Refugees who have suffered torture and trauma. Below is a copy of her address.

“Thank you. Before I begin, I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we gather today, and pay my respects to elders, past, present and emerging.

“I am honoured to speak here today and share a piece of my story. Over the past six years I have learnt that your passions pave your path. When I graduated from high school, I knew that I wanted to help people and have a job where I would be excited to go to work each day. However, at the time I wasn’t sure what that would be. I was unsure what I should study at university and after considering many options from dance to marine biology to teaching, I decided, the day before QTAC closed, to study Law and Psychology. When I started university, I soon realised that I loved studying psychology, while studying law was going to be a challenge. It wasn’t long before I decided that I wanted to turn my interest of issues faced by people from refugee backgrounds, into a career.

“A year into university I started volunteering at the Multicultural Development Association – an amazing organisation supporting newly arrived people from refugee backgrounds to settle and rebuild their lives in Brisbane. The second that I walked into the building to have my interview it was clear to me that this work was what I wanted to do. For the next 3 years, I was matched with families who had just arrived in Australia from all over the world – we taught each other about our different cultures, they became my friends and I did what I could to help them settle into life in Brisbane. I also volunteered at many events to promote multiculturalism and diversity. It is always an amazing feeling to come together with people from every corner of the world, acknowledging the hardship, suffering and oppressions that we have all faced, and moving past that to celebrate our resilience and our differences to move towards a place of healing.

“During and after graduating from university, I incorporated this passion for working towards social justice and inclusion, with another of my passions, which is travel. I travelled to Kenya, where I volunteered in an internally displaced person’s camp, in the Rift Valley. For those of you who don’t know, internally displaced people are people who have fled their homes because of persecution but, unlike refugees, have not left the borders of the country they were born in. In 2007, a number of members of the Kikuyu tribe in Kenya were targeted and it is estimated that 1300 people were killed and a further 600,000 people were forced to flee their homes within one month. Many people fled to camps located around the country, where they are still living today, 1 years down the track. In my role, I was working alongside a Kenyan organisation to reunite families who had been separated during the violence when everyone was forced to flee quickly. In Kenya, as in many of my roles in Australia, I was confronted by so many heartbreaking situations, from children whose parents were killed because of these tribal clashes to young girls forced into child marriages. Despite these injustices, I also saw families come together again and saw growth and healing in a community that had endured so much, but were still so kind, joyous and resilient.

“After coming back from travelling at the end of last year, I started working at QPASTT, an organisation that supports survivors of torture and trauma, from refugee backgrounds. QPASTT supports people with the goal of improving individual and community well –being after the experience of complex and repeated trauma, which can have a profound effect on a person’s entire view of the world, their ability to trust others and their ability to utilise internal coping mechanisms that they may previously have held. We mainly support individuals and families by counselling, using a number of flexible and culturally sensitive methods. We also run groups, programs for young people, work with communities from different backgrounds to develop trust and support with QPASTT and train mainstream organisations and schools to become more culturally sensitive and aware of barriers faced by trauma survivors, from refugee backgrounds.

“At QPASTT, I work with asylum seekers. This group of people are incredibly vulnerable because they have often not only experienced unspeakable torture and trauma in their home countries, but also face extreme discrimination and misunderstanding brought on by media representation in Australia. Many people have endured terrible conditions in offshore and onshore detention centres and go through years and years of uncertainty about whether they are in a place of safety or if they will be sent back to the place where they endured the original trauma. Within this harsh political environment, we work with clients to help them to restore their sense of safety and control in their lives, as much as possible, to restore meaningful attachments with others, and to restore their sense of purpose and dignity.

“As you can see, my job, like so many others, is both rewarding and extremely challenging. I often feel helpless and disempowered by not only the experiences of my clients but also by the fact that we live in a society, were there is so much oppression, hate and discrimination. This hate is directed at so many groups of people, whether you’re an Aboriginal Australian, or gay or transgender, or you’re a Muslim, or a woman or an asylum seeker, it’s so easy to be overwhelmed and so hard to know what to do. For me that’s the importance of doing what you are passionate about, because if you do this then you will never see your work or your life as an act of charity or as a community service, but rather as being part of a shared happiness, that in itself can be transformative in the face of so much suffering. I am honoured to work with so many amazing people, both colleagues and clients, from all over the world, and to play a small part in supporting healing for people who have endured some of the earths most extreme and heartbreaking suffering.

“I hope that I have managed to share a little bit of my passion and love for what I do with you all today, and I hope that it encourages you to do what you love, not only in your future careers, but in your lives in general.

“Congratulations to all of the graduates here today. In the words of Howard Thurman, African-American author, philosopher and civil rights leader, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, because the world needs more people who have come alive.” Thank you.”  

Pictured: Rachel Munt (School Captain), Michelle Wylie (Past Student, Class of 2010), Rory Stansfield (School Captain)

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