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Use online study to help your community
At nearly 60 years of age, running a household that includes a handful of gorgeous grandkids, Emma is also finding time to complete a degree in psychology. With this, she’s hoping to become the first Aboriginal woman in her local area to become a psychologist.
We don't have a very high number of Aboriginal psychologists in Australia, especially here in South Australia. I know there's a couple around but I want to be one of them.
My name is Emma Sumner. I'm studying a Bachelor of Psychological Science with Swinburne University, through Open Universities Australia.
I'm social health specialist caseworker/counsellor and I support community members that want to engage in the Royal Commission response to institutional child sexual abuse. I believe that I'm here for a purpose. In 2002, I had a massive heart attack.
When I came to, I said they're not ready for me upstairs yet because I've got something I have to do here and it's about the healing.
I was saved by my uncle and aunty, who I call mum and dad, from our welfare
system back in the day. Otherwise I would have been part of the Stolen Generations.
My dad told me once that, my girl, if you ever want to get on in this world, you better have that white man’s piece of paper, because that's the only thing that puts you in a position where you're able to help other people.
I thought I'm going to do this and Open University suited my lifestyle because I've got three grandchildren who are now living with me and it fits with my daily routine .
I've got eight units this year, so I should be finished 2017 18 19! I’ll be 60 then!
We’ve been told that we need to do at least 12 hours a week and whatever that looks like, I will jam it in. I've got to be there for my grandchildren, study’s second but I do it for me, that's me, my stuff. I will be a psychologist. It'll happen, I just know that's what I’m here for.
As a child, Emma learned the importance of education from her uncle and his wife – who she calls Dad and Mum – when they saved her from the welfare system.
Emma recalls her uncle telling her, “My girl, if you ever want to get anywhere in this world, you gotta have that white man’s piece of paper – that’s the only thing that will get you in the door, and put you in a position where you’re able to help other people.”
Not only did this advice drive Emma to learn, but she also gained a greater sense of purpose after surviving a heart attack in 2002.
After this, it became even more important for Emma to become a psychologist in her local area, because so few aboriginal women have reached the level of a counsellor. “I will be a psychologist out here. It’ll happen, I just know, because I believe I’m here for a purpose,” she says.
Day-to-day, Emma’s now including her studies for a Bachelor of Psychological Sciences from Swinburne University, through Open Universities Australia (OUA), in her schedule. Emma is already a case worker and counsellor, with a diploma in indigenous counselling, so her days will usually include home visits, organising referrals and talking with agencies, social workers and lawyers. Her current role sees her help people of the Aboriginal community work through sexual abuse issues, and Emma is also involved with organisations and support groups that help connect Aboriginal people.
As well as her work with the community, Emma also takes on the role of parent to three beautiful granddaughters. Not only is she running the household, but she’s also using this opportunity to pass on her passion for education to the youngsters.
Time to reflect
In Emma’s current line of work, she is exposed to stories of suffering that can take their toll on her emotionally. With this in mind, Emma takes time each night to practice rituals that help unburden her of those stresses. With a strong belief in the power of traditional healing, Emma will look to her ancestors for guidance and thank them for helping her through tough times.
Despite the challenges from her past, and her hectic life as a full-time employee and guardian, Emma saw OUA as the best option to help her continue her studies. And, it’s safe to say she’s surprising even herself with what she’s capable of.
“I’ve got to be able to be there for my grandchildren,” says Emma. “Study comes second – but I do it for me. That’s my stuff.”
Emma encourages people just like herself to keep pushing for what they want. And, if further study is what you want, get in touch with Open Universities Australia here, or speak to one of their expert student advisors on 1300 513 044 to find out the right degree for you.
This article was originally published by our friends at Open Universities Australia.