FECCA 2019: Know Your Roots Program for Pacific Islanders in the Goulburn Valley

Know Your Roots logoMellisa Silaga – Project Officer of the Ethnic Council of Shepparton and District presented one session at the 2019 FECCA Conference by name Pacific Islander – NZ Citizens: The Unbroken Intergenerational Chain of Limited Education and Poverty after migrating to Australia

The unbroken intergenerational chain of poverty based on the lack of education to excel in greater opportunities is one that plagues the Pacific Islander community in Australia.

A Pacific Islander (PI) who enters Australia on a New Zealand passport, is granted a Special Category visa (Subclass 444) on arrival, is granted the opportunity to study, work and live in Australia. Based on their nationality of passport, the ‘systems’ automatically assume the individual to speak and write English as their first language and assumes that they are equal to an Australian citizen; this statement is far from the truth.


FECCA 2019-Mellisa V. Silaga
Mellisa V. Silaga (right, in white) at the 2019 FECCA Conference presentation of Pacific Islander – NZ Citizens: The Unbroken Intergenerational Chain of Limited Education and Poverty after migrating to Australia

In the 2016 census the percentage of individuals that identified as being of Pacific Islander ancestry had increased by 90% since 2006. The dream to provide their children with a ‘better future’ is believed to be attainable in Australia and is heard in many Pacific Islander stories told in various research papers in the last six years.

English is a second language for many Pacific Islander’s and in the home at least one parent has completed an average of Grade 5 – 7 education, with both parents working as labourers (orchid fruit pickers, factory workers etc).

The Goulburn Valley is no exception. In the last 15 years, the growth of the Pacific Islander population is now over 2000. Today, Pacific Islander students in the Goulburn Valley reach Year 10 and contemplate dropping out of schools to gain a full time job to support their family’s financial struggle or reach Year 12, only to discover that higher education is not an option due to finance. Pacific Islander students are not eligible for financial support and pay more than their Australian counterparts.

The ‘better future’ is no longer a possibility and the intergenerational chain of limited education and poverty continues; an injustice based on nationality.

A way forward that is sustainable and win for youth who want to pursue education is the Know Your Roots – Education Return Program. A cycle that will provide potential students with seed funding that will help them achieve their education dreams and in return, pay it forward for another Pacific Islander student to excel.


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