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TAFE student a finalist for Koorie student of the year

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Tanya McDonald is proof that good things can come from bad situations.

A survivor of family violence, Ms McDonald says studying a Diploma of Community Services at South West TAFE helped turn her life around.

The transformation has led to Ms McDonald being named as a finalist as Koorie Student of the Year in the 2019 Victorian Training Awards. The winner will be announced on September 6 at Crown Casino.

Ms McDonald said she enrolled in the course after being involved in a family violence situation. “I’d been through a hard time and was helped by so many wonderful people and services in Warrnambool who picked me up and got me on the right path. Once I was back on my feet, I decided I wanted to make a difference and help others – just like I had been helped,” she said.

During the course, Ms McDonald worked as a paralegal at a local law firm, helping women through family violence issues.

After completing the course in 2018 along with a Graduate Certificate in Family Therapy, she now works at South West Healthcare developing and implementing a Reconciliation Action Plan, working on Closing the Gap with the health needs of the Indigenous community and making the hospital more culturally safe and appropriate.

“This allows me to fulfil my passion of Aboriginal advocacy – working with local Aboriginal people and communities and connecting them with mainstream services through reconciliation.”

Ms McDonald is also chairperson of Kirrae Health Services and recently started dancing in the Nganong Parreeyt dance group.

“I’ve had a complete lifestyle and personal change, seeing life through a different lens,” she said. “I’ve gone through my healing journey and now want to return the favor.”

Ms McDonald said the Diploma of Community Services “completely changed my life”.

“Before starting my course, I could have never imagined achieving something like this. It’s ignited a passion in me,” she said.

During her study Ms McDonald overcame many obstacles, including separating from her partner and becoming a single parent to four children, aged from six to 17.

“The course set me on a new direction, helped me to overcome my self-doubt and gave me greater awareness of the diverse groups within our local community.”

Ms McDonald, 41, praised her teachers at South West TAFE. “They have set me up for a career in the community services field. They were so understanding and flexible, allowing me to bring my children to class on some occasions and helping me to achieve my goals.”

She is now mentoring a woman studying the Diploma of Community Services. “Helping her to change her direction in life is very rewarding,” she said. 

Ms McDonald said she was proud to be named 2018 Koorie Student of the Year at South West TAFE and even more surprised to become a state finalist.

“I’m very excited and very proud to be recognised,” she said. “My first goal is to make a change in my community and a positive impact on the health needs of Indigenous people; my second goal is to encourage younger Indigenous people to further their education, and I hope to be a role model for everyone to show that no matter what age, it’s not too late.

“I keep saying to people that if I can do it, anyone can.”

Tanya McDonald has been named as a finalist as Koorie Student of the Year in the 2019 Victorian Training Awards