Deaf teenager Natasha has always shown extraordinary potential from the time we met her two years ago. She came to our first Communication Bridging Camp for deaf Aboriginal children and by the end of that special weekend, she had shown her leadership skills and opened up about her dreams. Natasha was inspiring in her determination to become a social worker but she needed to overcome so many challenges to enable her to pursue that goal – including significant educational and communication barriers.
‘I want to help people like me’
Natasha told us, “When I was little my aunty asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. I answered her, ‘I want to help people like me’. She says she nearly cried. It’s something that I have always wanted to do for even longer than I can remember. I wanted to encourage the young ones because when I was little, my family taught me about my background being Aboriginal, but I didn’t have any role models to teach me about being deaf. I thought I could be a good role model for them.”
“I was the second eldest of 11 children and I have grown up looking after my little brothers and sisters. From the time I was around ten, I started making sure they were awake on time, taking them to school, preparing meals, making sure they were fed and not hurt, and washing their clothes.”
Providing support when it’s needed most
After the camp, we received a call asking for ongoing support for Natasha. She had returned home to her regional community and at her school, the Head Teacher of Special Education Stuart Wood said he had seen a dramatic difference in Natasha after camp as her self-confidence started to grow. She had hardly been signing to anyone but after the camp, Natasha started signing in front of the whole school and sharing her ideas more.
Stuart expressed his concern that Natasha needed the chance to strengthen her language skills and her sense of identity as a young deaf woman. He also advocated for Natasha to be able to access the educational opportunities she needs to become a social worker. As Natasha explains, “In hearing schools, I felt like there were a lot of barriers. I was just getting little fragments of information and wasn’t able to take it all in”.
Deaf Children Australia was able to provide long term support to Natasha – initially through the VidKids pilot program. Case manager Debra Swann and Youth Support Worker Paula Thornton became deaf mentors for Natasha and taught her Auslan skills and independent living skills through Skype. Debra explains, “We talked about life, Natasha’s problems and what she wanted to achieve. We spoke with the teachers about educational needs and advocated for her.” Natasha simply says, “They have helped me with anything and everything.”
When Natasha moved to live with her grandmother, Deaf Children Australia continued to support her through really tough times. Natasha no longer had her deaf teacher’s aide and she felt a little lost at her new hearing school where she was attempting Year 12. She was trying to care for her family as well and after a short time, Natasha stopped attending school. DCA continued to mentor her and supported Natasha to attend a Crossing Borders Camp in Victoria, and the Talking Hands Camp in the Northern Territory.
“I really had some goals after the coma – something that I wanted to achieve”
In the middle of that year, Natasha fell ill with meningitis and lay in a coma for a week. Natasha explains, “When I woke up and found out I had almost died, it was a real shock to me. After that experience, I thought life is really too short. It really made me decide I wanted to move to Melbourne, do Year 12 at Victorian College for the Deaf (VCD) and go to university in Melbourne. I thought VCD would give me the best chance to get into university because all the teachers sign. So I really had some goals after the coma – something that I wanted to achieve. I wanted to do social work with deaf Aboriginal children and make an impact in the community.”
Debra talked with Natasha’s aunty in Melbourne about helping Natasha to move down here, and assisted Natasha with accommodation and school meetings. On the day Natasha arrived, Paula helped her with travel training and will continue to help with independent living skills. Natasha says, “It is difficult of course being independent and away from most of my family but at the same time, it’s really good. I have some role models and older people guiding me. Like this morning, I got lost in the city on my way to school and Deb helped me find my way.”
Now, Natasha is feeling great about the new opportunities and her role at DCA’s Deaf Aboriginal Camp as a youth leader. She is well on her way to achieving her dream of helping other children like herself.
Help us reach out to more children
We have shared Natasha’s story in our current Autumn Appeal because there are so many other children and young people like her. Can you enable us to reach out to other children and young people like Natasha who just need to be empowered and supported to achieve their potential in life? Please take a moment to make a tax deductible donation through calling us on (03) 9539 5356 or giving online at www.deafchildrenaustralia.org.au