This year Great Escape proudly sponsored MADALAH by donating a cruise experience for their auction at their annual fundraising Ball.
We invited Louise Hookham, Scholarships and Events Manager at MADALAH to describe their Indigenous scholarship program.
Can you tell me about how MADALAH was formed and what was the purpose?
MADALAH was formed in 2009, funded by the Indigenous Advancement Strategy to provide scholarships to Indigenous students in Western Australia. These scholarships are primarily for students from regional and remote areas so that they have the opportunity to access a quality education not always available in their home town. From very small beginnings the organisation has recently grown to ten staff. We are supporting 360 students this year and hope to next year support over 400 students which is very exciting.
MADALAH Alumni & Current Tertiary Scholars Mentoring Current Secondary Students
What would you say is the highlight for you?
It would definitely be the number of students we’ve been able to support across secondary and tertiary education. I think the other thing we’ve really brought into play, which is a great achievement over the last two years, is our mentoring program and wrap around support structure; we really pride ourselves on this. We now have a pool of approximately 20 mentors, who are all Indigenous and looking to give back to MADALAH.
They’ve all been part of the MADALAH program having either received a secondary scholarship or being a current tertiary scholar. They’ve travelled a similar path and can pass on their knowledge and stories to the kids currently on scholarships.
The mentoring program sees our mentors go out twice a term to each of our 23 partner schools. They deliver a 1 to 2-hour session each time and it always focuses on a different, but relevant topic. This term our mentors have gone out and talked about cultural connection. They’ve run an activity where students are encouraged to take photos of themselves or things around them that remind them of their culture, their connection to culture or to the land. Students were also invited to share something about their identity, what cultural connection means to them and how they keep it strong, especially when studying away from home.
We’ve got mentors who are studying to be doctors, pilots and lawyers. Some of these mentors are also living away from home and therefore can share that experience with the new students. Our mentors also share life skills. They talk about what it’s like to get into the rental market, or how they’re going home to have a gap year. All of our mentors are happy to talk about these kinds of things with the scholarship students, and share the practical knowledge they have gained.
In terms of success rates, we have a very high success rate; consistently above 95% retention in the program since 2014.
In the past, we’ve run sessions on leadership and mental health and well-being. We also recently held our Education and Well-being Days in August. Students came out to the Swan Valley Adventure Centre, and we had guest speakers come in to facilitate 3 different sessions. Topics included cyber safety, social and emotional wellbeing, and career pathways. Casey and Garth, our Student & Families Support Managers, facilitated a session as well, exploring what it actually feels like to walk in two worlds; empowering our students to stand tall and share their culture with pride whilst at school.
We try to equip our students to go into the real world when the time comes so students also learnt about resume writing, cleaning up their social media accounts and having a respectable voicemail and email address. We also visit each school for their NAIDOC week. Whether it’s for an assembly, maybe the kids are performing a cultural dance, or they’ve got a guest speaker, we like to join in and share this special celebration with our students. We also go to each of our partner school’s orientation and open days. It’s important to us that the students get to meet us before they’ve even commenced on scholarship. This is so we can meet our kids as soon as possible and they can put a face to a name and be like, “Oh, I am receiving a scholarship with MADALAH. I’m going to see them in Perth next year.”
It is a pleasure for us to watch the students grow, mature and become confident individuals. We want to be there for every step of their education journey. Each semester, we request the student’s academic report. If we see that a student might be struggling, then we can provide some additional support. We can also support our students with other things, like if they want to play a musical instrument, or they might be really successful with sport and end up travelling with a state team.
“It is a pleasure for us to watch the students grow, mature and become confident individuals.”
“I can feel myself tearing up. I’ve had so many emails. Everyone is just so grateful and they always tell me how life-changing this is going to be for their kids.”
Partner Schools & Events
We partner with really great schools. They have their own Indigenous programs, are culturally safe and have caring and nurturing environments. If the students are struggling academically, we can provide a mentor to tutor them. For our mentors, we have a list of all the subjects that they’re happy to tutor in. We can also do one-on-one mentoring. If a student is really struggling in general, it might be that they’re home sick. That’s quite common, especially when they’re coming down in year 7, because they’re so young. We look to find a mentor who comes from the same region who can sit with them, have a chat and say, “Look, I know you’re missing home, but it does get better. These are the strategies I used; I would call my family every night or count down the days until mid-term break”. There’s lots of other things that we can do for our students, and mentors and staff play a huge role in that.
What does a typical student journey look like?
Once a student is awarded a scholarship they will come down for an orientation day at their chosen school at the end of the school year prior to them commencing. We also try to meet with them at this time, and then they’ll come down at the start of the next year to commence their scholarship journey. Within a month of them starting, we host our annual Orientation Day, where we bring all of our kids together, existing and new, and do a full day’s orientation. Our Orientation Day is all about team building and getting to know each other. Quite often you see all the family connections. They might be cousins, siblings or extended family. It’s so nice to witness because they get so excited to see each other. We also do a Year 7 Camp, which is an overnight stay somewhere in Perth.
These events include lots of different activities, from team building and canvas paintings, to blow-up movies and giant games. We talk about all of the different opportunities available to the students and how best they can embrace them and make the most of this scholarship opportunity. Our mentors also join in, running activity stations and participating alongside the students. It’s really all about getting to know our students and setting them up for the year ahead and what they can expect.
We follow them for their whole secondary journey, we are with them every step of the way. Towards the end of year 12, we host our annual graduation event. We just had one a couple of weeks ago at Guildford Grammar School. We are not just about our students finishing Year 12 and then they’ve left us; they are a part of the MADALAH family for life.
All through Year 11 and 12, we have a post-secondary support officer who works close with students to help them map out what they want to do post school and how we can help. A lot of them say, “I want to work for MADALAH.” Some of them might want to do an apprenticeship, so then we look to our corporate partners and see who might be offering apprenticeships or traineeships. We can also give them a reference letter and help them to create a portfolio of achievements. Some students, may also need help with accommodation in Perth, choosing to stay and continue with further study. In these cases, we help them apply to residential facilities, or look at other living options for post school.
We can also assist with things like finding employment, as we are often approached by corporations that would like to support our graduates with employment opportunities. We’ve got lots of different avenues, and then post school, we also have what we call year 13. We keep in touch with each of our graduates, just to check in and see how they’re going, can we provide any further support, do they need help looking for a job? Or, do they want to go onto tertiary study? And if they do, we do tertiary scholarships, so then we encourage them to apply to us for that. Everyone just always remains part of the MADALAH family.
When did Great Escape get involved with MADALAH?
Great Escape donated the number one auction item for our Ball this year. It was a highlight of the auction and proceeds from the item have allowed us to award an additional 5 secondary scholarships in 2022.
What feedback do you get from families of students who receive scholarships?
I can feel myself tearing up. I’ve had so many emails. Everyone is just so grateful and they always tell me how life-changing this is going to be for their kids. For a lot of these kids, this opportunity for a quality education would not be possible without the MADALAH scholarship.
For the kids, they make so many friends, they get lots of experiences that they might not otherwise and a lot of them want to go back home and take those experiences with them and put that back into the community. For example, we have a couple of tertiary scholars studying medicine, who once graduated, want to go back home and be a doctor in regional WA. That’s what they always say, “I just want to give back. I’m so grateful. I want to give back to my community.”
What sort of feedback do you get from the sponsors, your corporate sponsors?
Our sponsors get the opportunity to engage with the students they support. They can attend and participate in our MADALAH events, for example our Orientation Days or the Youth Leadership Summit. Whether they want to come and just sit amongst it, present a topic, facilitate or host a career expo with a small group of interested students. Corporate sponsors also get the opportunity to come and present the graduation certificates to the students they have supported when they graduate at the end of year 12 and or their chosen tertiary course.
They feel connected and I think they see what is being achieved. Sometimes these sponsors open up employment opportunities for the students they have supported and we always try to align them with what the kids’ interests are post school.
If people want to assist MADALAH, what do you advise them to do?
There’s lots of ways that they can support us. Head to our website and have a look at our latest stories on the blog or they can donate online. All donations go straight back into scholarships. They could also give us a call if they were interested in becoming a corporate partner, sponsoring secondary students, tertiary students or a combination of the two. They could also contribute to events just as Great Escape did, sponsoring and attending the next MADALAH Ball or donating an item for us to auction off on the night. There are a whole range of sponsorship opportunities available and we’d encourage people to get in touch with us to discuss further!