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Cultural connections create a better community

Paula Dewis is following in her father's footsteps by teaching the next generation of community service workers.

"Both of my parents were involved with the community ever since I was a little jarjum (child), and growing up, I observed my dad create the Kozan Housing Co-operative in Cairns," said Paula.

“Back in the late 60s and 70s, when you see your parents’ struggle trying to prove themselves under certain government policy, you understand the struggles and the importance of the battle to improving things for yourself and your community.”

Seeing her father George achieve so much for his community despite overwhelming odds galvanised Paula’s desire to follow his lead and support community members who needed help.

"He was also the first board member on the Torres Strait Regional Authority Board in the Torres Straits, and he implemented the Torres Strait Islander Media Association on Thursday Island."

“To help more people, he enrolled in a course through TAFE Queensland to become a tutor and teach Torres Strait Island people English when he returned to Thursday Island.”

“He then travelled around the islands for the Australian Electoral Commission to enrol people to vote and teach English, helping them improve their opportunities.”

Fast forward to today and Paula has a career in education that spans over three decades. Her focus has been the same as her father’s – using her culture, knowledge, skills and experience to help people improve their opportunities.

The Wuthathi (Aboriginal) and Dhoeybau (Boigu Island Torres Straits) woman has been teaching certificate and diploma level courses in community services, mental health, youth work and child, youth and family intervention.

"With community services being an important part of my personal and professional life, I can bring my knowledge, passion, skills and experience to TAFE Queensland to train the next generation, and I love being an educator here," says Paula.

Her dedication to helping students graduate ready to help those who need it shines through as she guides and mentors her pupils to be tomorrow's best possible community workers.

"Every semester, I see my students' skills and knowledge growing and excelling, and I love seeing those light bulb moments when a student understands what we're teaching them," explained Paula.

A key component of her teaching is her involvement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community groups that aim to improve the everyday lives of First Nations people, particularly young people, by enhancing their ability to take advantage of every opportunity.

"I'm involved with several community-controlled organisations – Murrigunyah Family Cultural Healing Centre, Gunya Meta, Keriba Mabaigal Torres Strait Islander Corporation, Logan First Nation Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, where I interact with First Nations people, which allows me to bring cultural values and practices from the wider community back to the classroom."

"I'm able to inform students, who may have never interacted with First Nations people, about the concept of First Nations people, who they are, how they got here, and the issues that have affected and impacted from generations."

"Then I watch my students develop a deeper understanding of how to work and interact with First Nations people using culture-based empathy, respect and knowing how to communicate to be successful," continued Paula.

TAFE's competency-based training environment is a major key to her students learning the rules and norms for interacting with diverse groups of people, including First Nations.

I provide real-life scenarios throughout the course because of my industry connections. My students can participate in the community, bring learnings back into the classroom, and align them to what we’re teaching, giving them insights into what they might experience when on a vocational placement."

Paula’s industry connections aren't just limited to her volunteer work as her graduates often return to TAFE Queensland as guest speakers, giving current students the most up-to-date insights into what to expect in the industry.

"A former student who secured a position within the Benevolent Society came back to work with 40 of our current students during Reconciliation Week, which saw them collaborate with a community-controlled organisation."

"This gave our class a deeper understanding of the industry by bringing the community together and engaging in genuine consultation. It went a long way to helping them understand what working with First Nations people and other diverse people in their community was all about."

"If I can help one student be successful, and they help their community to thrive, as they apply all the learnings and interactions they've had while at TAFE is very satisfying."

Thanks to seeing her father’s positive impact on the community and the powerful outcomes, Paula knew that she would have a career in teaching from an early age.

Her career has taken her interstate through several tertiary institutions, inspiring thousands of students to follow their passion and help people thrive in their communities.

"The opportunities of studying and working in an industry you're passionate about will lead to real career satisfaction and achievement for yourself and your clients."

"Working in this sector is challenging but fulfilling, and there are many career opportunities where you can help people maintain a better quality of life," concluded Paula.