Cousins Faith and Azriel Bin Omar have been friends forever. Growing up in the remote Kimberley region of far north Western Australia, they’d swim in the river near their home town and swing off the rope into the water. Some days, they’d head upstream and ride the strong current back to the starting point. They’d go out bush with their family – hunting, fishing, learning about bush food and listening to the old stories. Connecting with culture and country.
In a small town where everyone knows everyone, the community felt like one big family.
So it was a life-changing moment when first Faith, then Azriel were selected as Yalari scholars, travelling more than 2000kms to Albany via Perth to Great Southern Grammar School.
“When I first saw Great Southern Grammar and boarding, it was definitely very different to what was in my head,” says Faith, who is just about to finish Year 10.
“I remember the reality hit me and thinking ‘this is it; this is actually boarding.’
But since I came here, I feel that I have become more independent and also more myself. I’ve learnt to be happier with myself and how I do things, and to show more kindness to others.”
For the first three years Faith boarded at Great Southern Grammar, her younger cousin Azriel couldn’t wait for her to come home for the holidays.
“I remember when Faith came home at the start and she seemed more confident and grew taller,” says Azriel. “Some of the words she spoke were really big words as I was only Year 4 and I didn’t know what they meant.
My dad says that education is power but the main reason I wanted to come to Great Southern Grammar was Faith.”
Earlier this year, supported by her own Yalari scholarship, Azriel followed in her cousin’s footsteps and made the transition from the Kimberley to Great Southern Grammar.
“I was really nervous, so that made me shy and quiet. It was also strange to have to wear the school uniform. I have changed a bit as a person – now I talk a lot more.”
Azriel also bravely stood up in front of the whole school to deliver a speech for NAIDOC Week, sharing stories of her home country and culture.
Having Faith nearby has helped Azriel when she feels homesick, or sad, or just needs a reminder of home. But Faith also serves as Azriel’s inspiration.
“I look up to Faith. I’m proud to call her my first cousin. We have been through a lot together. I also like hanging out with the Yalari group on Wednesdays. It makes me feel comfortable because some are from where I am from and understand me.”
This sense of ‘family’ – both actual family as in the case of Faith and Azriel, and the Yalari family – is a big part of helping our students feel connected to home and supported while they are living away. It’s a huge change to move from a remote town where they are surrounded by family every day, to living in a school boarding house, so we try to keep family members together where we can or create a wider Yalari family.
Azriel and Faith both agree that has certainly worked for them.
“I have learnt a lot about myself and developed my character,” says Faith. “I’m very proud of becoming the strong, independent Aboriginal woman that I truly am. I want to be a good role model and leader in the future; someone that others can talk to when they need to.”