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Easing the fear of the unknown

Sarah Baker knows what it is like to step into the unknown. That’s why she has made supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students at TAFE Queensland’s Townsville (Pimlico) campus her lifelong career.

As a 12-year-old, Sarah was sent to boarding school in the outback Queensland town Charters Towers, thousands of kilometres from her water-skirted home of Erub (Darnley Island) in the Torres Strait.

For Sarah, the school might well have been on the moon.

“I was so home sick. They didn’t speak my language, they didn’t eat my food. Even walking past the kitchen made me feel sick from the smells,” Sarah recalls of her arrival at boarding school," she said.

“I know what it is like to fear the unknown. And that is why I think it is so important that we do everything we can to make TAFE Queensland a safe place for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.”

Sarah is an Indigenous Student Support Officer (ISSO) at TAFE Queensland – she’s worked in multiple roles in her two-decade long career but it is the past eight years as an ISSO where she has really felt able to make a difference.

ISSOs are located across TAFE Queensland, and help support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students with enrolment to graduation, and everything in between.

“I always wanted to do something to be able to give back and help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” she continued.

“I want Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be comfortable when they walk in the door and feel like this is a safe place and a place where they deserve to be.”

For the past year, Sarah has been actively engaged in TAFE Queensland’s Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) working group. The second RAP is currently under review, with Sarah keen to continue implementing the goals across the whole organisation.

“I am in a position where I clearly see the challenges we have and I am surprised how differently reconciliation is viewed across the state,” she said.

“There are improvements to be made and in some places there is lots of catching up to be done, but we can do it. It is about understanding and working together.”

“I am so pleased that the conversation has been started, now everyone needs to participate.”

Sarah is encouraging her colleagues to take a moment to learn about TAFE Queensland’s RAP and find ways to integrate its objectives into their daily work.

“For example, anyone can say an Acknowledgement in a meeting. It doesn’t have to be an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person. This is part of understanding.”

“Reconciliation is everyone’s business.”