A scholarship has helped me to improve essential health care for Aboriginal Australians

A scholarship has helped me to improve essential health care for Aboriginal Australians

James providing podiatry services in Aboriginal communities

I am the first person in my family to graduate from high school, to study at university, and to receive a PhD for my research in podiatry.

My name is Dr James Charles and I am a Kaurna man from Adelaide. It is my honour to write to you today.

I’ll be honest with you, I hope that by sharing my story you will be inspired to support students through scholarships and help them to succeed. I was very fortunate to receive a scholarship at a crucial time in my life, from people just like you, which helped me to continue studying Podiatry. You can choose to believe in a student in the same way others believed in me.

After dropping out of school as a young teenager and being told I was illiterate when I was in my mid-twenties, I am now an academic, a National NAIDOC Scholar of the Year, and most recently a UniSA Alumni Award recipient.

When I was in my mid-twenties I had two young children and started to think beyond myself. I enrolled at TAFE to study the equivalent of primary school and was told, ‘James, congratulations you can join our course - you are illiterate!’

My teachers encouraged me to pursue higher education and I found my ideal course in Bachelor of Podiatry at UniSA. Studying at university full-time when I had five boys aged under 10 years old, while working part-time to support my young family was tough to say the least.

I received an Irene and David Davy Scholarship, which I will forever be thankful to have received. The financial support this scholarship provided allowed me to continue studying at university – I know for a fact that I wouldn’t have been able to continue to study full-time without it.

Sadly, Aboriginal people, especially those in rural and remote communities, are more likely to have foot health problems than in the general population. Through my research, and then my PhD which followed, I found that Aboriginal people have high rates of equinus, which is a reduced movement at the ankle. This can contribute to athleticism, but can also become a serious issue and lead to ulceration and amputation, especially as people get older and heavier. Ultimately, by trusting myself and dedicating myself to my education, I have been able to help so many people improve their health and wellbeing.

I am now working as an academic in Victoria supporting Aboriginal students studying health degrees. Every day I see first-hand the wide range of barriers that students face. I remember how challenging it was juggling study, with work, with family, and with life.

Students studying health courses at UniSA are required to complete placements as part of their studies, as you would have also done. These placements are crucial for our future employment. But on top of this most students today work part-time jobs to support themselves financially. When that is combined with full-time study (generally our working week), with then supporting their own families – it can be a stressful combination.

You may not know this, but in South Australia, UniSA has the highest rate of students from a disadvantaged background who successfully complete their degrees. In fact, nearly 30% of commencing students to UniSA come from an economically disadvantaged background.

So today, I strongly encourage you to make a donation to UniSA’s Scholarship Fund and give a helping hand to another student, one just like me.

Together, let’s continue supporting students – I’m excited to see how they will contribute to the health sector in the future. Today’s students are the next generation of bright minds and innovative leaders. When they succeed, we all succeed.

Education and receiving a scholarship has allowed me to turn my-life around, but more importantly, it has allowed me to provide essential health care for the Aboriginal community and change more lives than just mine.

If I could talk to my 13 year old self now, the young man who was dropping out of high school, I would let him know, ‘you are smarter than you think, you can do more than you believe.’

I hope by sharing my story with you today, that you will be inspired to support more students through the UniSA Scholarship Fund.

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