Courage and strength were on display at a special ceremony last week.
Seven remarkable women received scholarships from the International Women's Day Illawarra Committee on March 5. This years theme is #choosetochallenge.
Aunty Mary Davis Scholarship for Indigenous Women - Bianca Hunt
Bianca is a Gumbaynggirr woman and mother of seven. Her mother was part of the stolen generations.
A teen parent, Bianca wanted to change the story of education for her children, and became the first in her family to complete Year 12.
She is now completing a degree at UOW in Psychology and Criminology. Bianca also volunteered as a Telephone Crisis Supporter for four years and is employed by Lifeline South Coast.
She was a Psychological First Aid worker in the 2020 bushfires and for the past three years Bianca has delivered suicide awareness training for the South Eastern NSW Region.
She has a passion for reconciliation, education, mental health and challenging injustice in communities.
In 2020 Bianca was nominated in the Amnesty International Challenge Injustice campaign. She is also a TAFE teacher in the counselling, mental health and youth area and a member of Junior Chamber International Illawarra Chapter.
She said she was honoured to receive the scholarship.
"I've heard the stories of Aunty Mary - to have this support to continue my professional development, it's huge," Bianca said.
Biacna wants to challenge stereotypes about mothers in the workplace.
"We know there is discrimination in that space," she said. "If you're an Indigenous woman or person of colour and also a mother, those challenges just add up."
Creative Spirit Scholarship - Neisha Murphy
Neisha Murphy is a variety entertainer, circus performer and director with a BA in Communications and a Diploma of Circus Arts. She has worked with Circus Monoxide, Circus Wow and The Merrigong Theatre Company, The South African State Theatre, The West Australian Ballet and MindBlank.
She said circus was a tight-knit, supportive community for women.
This year Neisha completed development of her theatre circus show 'ChaChi The Variety Superstar' with The Merrigong Theatre Company and launched a video docu-series inspired by the pandemic.
'The Non-essential Project' interviews local creative women and allies about how they were affected by the pandemic and what they found to be essential.
"The scholarship is massive - I've been working with an 11-year-old camera and a $50 spotlight to make this project happen," she said.
"Now I can buy a better camera, can potentially afford better editing software - I'm very thankful."
Niesha said she wanted to challenge the idea that women must be either strong or gentle.
"I think we can be both - we're adaptive."
Kerryn McCann Scholarship (Sport) - Tayissa Buchanan
Tayissa has been competing competitively for five years, making five national championships including four in athletics and one in cross country.
Tayissa began running when her dad coached the boys' soccer team.
"I'd be on the sidelines racing them," she said.
"I just fell in love with the sport. You feel free and it's really honest - at the end of the day whoever crosses the line first is the winner."
When she was 11, she began to train with a coach.
In 2019 she became the Australian All Schools Junior 800m u15 champion. In 2020 she made the Australian Athletics NSW team to compete at nationals in the 400 and 800m but they were cancelled due to Covid. In December at the NSW All Schools she became the 15-year girls 800m and 1500m state champion and took bronze in the 400m.
This year Tayissa will compete in the ACT championships (Feb) the ANSW Junior Championships (Mar), the NSW Little Athletics State Championships (Mar) and the Australian Juniors Athletics Championships (Apr). She is part of the Illawarra Academy of Sport program and a member of the Elite Athlete program at St Josephs catholic HS where she is in Year 10.
Tayissa hopes to represent Australia in the World U20 championships in either 2022 or 2024.
Tayissa said the scholarship meant a lot to her. She wants to challenge the stereotype that women are less powerful than men.
"We can be and are strong, mentally and physically," she said.
"Not just strong for a woman, but strong in general."
Dr Margaret Gardiner Scholarship (Medical Research) - Ashleigh Hope
Ashleigh graduated in 2020 from the University of Wollongong with a Bachelor of Medical Biotechnology (Hons) (Dean's Scholar). Her career in cancer research began in her second year of undergraduate study, where she completed two internships with Dr Kara Vine-Perrow (Inaugural Dr Margaret Gardiner Scholarship recipient) at the Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute (IHMRI). This focused on overcoming treatment resistance in Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. She also completed an internship at the Children's Medical Research Institute in Westmead in 2019.
"Working in a lab with two previous winners of this award I've been really lucky to be mentored by some amazing women," she said.
"My course had a very even gener split - the field in STEM in medical research is rapidly changing."
In 2020 she completed an Honours project aimed at preparing a chemotherapy and immunotherapy-loaded implantable device for the treatment of triple-negative breast cancer. Ashleigh successfully confirmed the efficacy of the device using cell-based models of breast cancer and presented these findings at a national conference in November 2020. The findings of her project lay the groundwork for further evaluation of the implants in mouse models, which are the focus of her current research assistant role and her PhD, which she will commence this year as recipient of a highly-competitive Australian Government RTP scholarship.
Ashleigh will use her scholarship to attend the Drug Delivery Australia conference, expected to be held in Adelaide in November 2021. The conference will enable her to disseminate her research findings to colleagues that are highly regarded in the field of drug delivery.
"I'm about to start my PhD and it would be very difficult to afford the travel costs otherwise," she said.
Ashleigh said she would like to challenge the idea that women can only be one thing.
"As a dancer I often got reactions of surprise when I tell people what I do," she said.
"You can be a scientist and a dancer, you can do whatever you want and follow all of your passions."
Gracie Wallis Scholarship for Women with a Disability - Amanda Hunt
Amanda is bilaterally profoundly deaf from birth and lives with PTSD. A single mother, born to hearing parents and with a hearing son, she is a strong advocate for those within the deaf community, especially deaf women who have experienced domestic violence.
Amanda experienced domestic violence both as a young child and as an adult. She has overcome extraordinary challenges and, despite her deafness, can communicate incredibly well with hearing people and is a strong advocate for herself, her son and the deaf community.
"There is little understanding about the struggles deaf women experience on a daily basis," she said.
"Many people don't know women with a disability are more likely to experience domestic violence."
Amanda's goal is to work within the deaf community, supporting others to connect within their community and receive the services they need.
Amanda relies on auslan to communicate but can also lip read.
She said she was surprised and overwhelmed to receive the scholarship.
Amanda wants to challenge stereotypes about deaf women.
"There is a stereotype that deaf women are dumb or less than," she said.
"I am just as capable as anyone else of doing what I put my mind to."
Cate Stevenson Scholarship (Business, Education, Community) - Doll Tewari
Boasting a master's degree in Social Science, Doll Tewari has always been drawn to helping others. In the UK she coordinated a project supporting women and children fleeing war-torn countries, offering them a safe space to access healthcare and giving them an opportunity to make friends and reduce isolation.
Doll has worked in women's refuges, and in a refugee centre supporting women from all countries facing crises. She has also worked in central government in international policy in sensitive areas such as trafficking. Doll also tries to make a difference in people's lives from the ground up by volunteering in the community.
"I'm a survivor myself, and it's only now I've been able to have the courage to say that," she said.
"My work in the future will involve helping empower women who have faced the same challenges.
"This award is about strength. Don't let anyone break you because there is always an inner strength."
She is now completing a degree in Chiropractic Science with the aim of helping people who are unable to access or do not have the means to access treatment.
"It's an opportunity to help others," she said.
She said she would like to challenge the perception that only one type of person experiences or commits domestic violence.
"It's not about how they appear, it's who they are as a person," she said.
Beryl Lewis Scholarship for Older Women - Margaret Ewart
Margaret was born in the Illawarra and has spent most of her life here. Her family ancestry means she identifies as a proud Wiradjuri woman.
After facing many horrific adversities as a child, Margaret ran away from home and was married for 15 years but the marriage was one of suppression, abuse, and torment. Margaret finds peace in her Indigenous art and is very talented.Margaret was determined to do all she could to ensure young children did not suffer as she did in her youth. She and her second husband fostered children, mostly Aboriginal, for many years. Margaret volunteered her time in schools as an Aboriginal Education facilitator, travelling around the state helping Indigenous kids to understand and appreciate their heritage.The IWD scholarship will allow Margaret to continue her art. The funds would be used to purchase canvases, paints, and equipment that she simply can no longer afford. Margaret is currently advocating for a new Woman's Trauma Centre.
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