Speech to Parliament: Sisters of Charity Foundation

When Mary Aikenhead established the Sisters of Charity, she proclaimed that the poor should have for love what the rich have for money. A not-for-profit organisation, the Sisters of Charity have been serving the people of Australia since 1838, with a particular emphasis on helping the poor and disadvantaged.

The Sisters of Charity are probably best known for the establishment of St Vincent's Hospital in Sydney but their philanthropic and charitable work extends way beyond the establishment of that important health facility. Among their good work, the sisters make special grants for charitable public purposes that promote their mission. One such program is the Sisters of Charity Tertiary Scholarship Program, which in recent years has grown and now offers eight scholarships to students throughout New South Wales. The sisters' scholarship is aimed at creating life-changing opportunities for people who as children lived in out-of-home care or foster care, growing up without the stability and support of a long-term traditional family unit.

There are an estimated 40,000 people nationally who share that history. Sadly, only around three per cent of young people who have lived in out-of-home care will go to university, compared to 40 per cent of young people currently in their early 20s. The Sisters of Charity Foundation seeks to rectify that disparity, and with the help of universities, including the Australian Catholic University, the University of Melbourne, the University of Notre Dame, the University of Queensland and the University of Sydney, the sisters are able to offer eight scholarships to young people who have a dream of establishing and receiving a tertiary education.

One such young woman is Amber Boatman, who on 17 December last year became the first student to graduate from this wonderful program. Amber completed her Bachelor of Laws from the University of Notre Dame. Amber grew up in a single-parent family with a mother who battled drug and alcohol addiction. When her mother died of an overdose, Amber was separated from her brothers and placed in foster care. Needless to say, her early life was marked by instability and a lack of support. But with a little help from the Sisters of Charity Foundation and Amber's dedication, hard work, intelligence and indeed her dream of receiving a tertiary education, her skills shone through, allowing her to earn a degree. She now works part time at an Aboriginal legal service. One of the fascinating things I find about people who receive these scholarships is that once they do complete the scholarships they put back into the community. They give back, and Amber is a great example of that.

One of the scholarship recipients, Shantell, said about the program:

Receiving the Sisters of Charity Foundation scholarship has made university an achievable goal. I was placed in foster care from a young age and I have lived independently since the age of 16. The scholarship will help me fast track my path to become a registered nurse. Whilst I would not change my life, the scholarship helps me to bridge the gap between what others have had, living with their parents, and what I have had in having to support myself. Being a recipient of this scholarship will also benefit my six siblings. This will show them that goals and dreams are achievable. I would love the opportunity to break the stereotypes about young adults like myself who are labelled 'foster children' and have low educational outcomes. I want to prove to everybody, as well as to myself, that I am capable and determined …

Shantell and Amber are great examples of what young children can achieve if they are given the opportunity. The Sisters of Charity provide that opportunity for young people throughout New South Wales. I congratulate the Sisters of Charity Foundation. I thank all of their donors for their generosity. Of course, the sisters are always looking to expand the scholarship program. I commend them on their wonderful work to help young people overcome the odds and achieve their educational dreams, and I encourage other tertiary education institutions to get on board.

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