NAIDOC: Opening doors for Indigenous families

Monday 1 July 2019

Melbourne Catholic Magazine, Vicki Clark
Since beginning in 2001, Opening the Doors Foundation has supported over 8400 Aboriginal students to attend Catholic schools. It all began through conversations we had with Aboriginal families in Victoria who wanted the opportunity to send their kids to Catholic schools but found it difficult due to the cost. They didn’t believe that the doors of these schools were open to them. In country areas in particular, Catholic schools are often seen as elite schools.

After spending time talking with Aboriginal families, we realised the importance of providing the option of a Catholic education for each family. We first visited schools all over Victoria to make sure they were culturally safe places for Aboriginal children. I worked with the Catholic Education Office in training teachers and rolling out curriculum for Prep to 12. The curriculum is certainly different from when I went to school—now they teach about my ancestors. We have a voice and a part in the curriculum.
With the support of the Archdiocese of Melbourne, we launched the Opening the Doors Foundation in 2001, covering the cost of books, uniforms and things like school camp expenses, but not school fees. The foundation began with just 32 students, but has grown to the record numbers we’ve seen this year—close to 800 students.
We are supported by private donations from loyal donors committed to the foundation; and we’ve helped inject around $5 million into Catholic schools in the state through the federal funding schools receive per child.
In the past, Aboriginal kids often didn’t go on to secondary school. But Opening the Doors has been instrumental in changing that. Now we’ve got a second generation on our books.
It’s incredible to see where some of our past recipients are today, and the positions they hold. It is so rewarding for the supporters of the foundation to see these outcomes. One of our past recipients is the CEO of the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service. We’ve got managers in Aboriginal organisations across the state. Some work in community development overseas. And of course, many are working in their own communities. A few students on our books are now studying overseas to become doctors. We’ve also got some students who are playing professional basketball in the US. I remember when one of those students put in an application for a pair of runners!
Families can see the difference in the students who attend these schools, especially in country areas. They see their behaviour on the sporting grounds, in the streets and at bus stops. And that’s what attracts a lot of families. Next year, we’re anticipating 70 to 80 new students, with children coming into Victoria from all around Australia. 
We believe that education will be the liberation of Aboriginal people, and the Open the Doors Foundation is working hard to improve participation in education for Aboriginal children.

If you would like to know more, contact Vicki Clark at Opening the Doors Foundation.

Vicki Clark is founding trustee of Opening the Doors Foundation and was coordinator of Aboriginal Catholic Ministry Victoria for 25 years. She is a descendent of the Mutthi Mutthi tribe of southwest NSW.
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