International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day

This International Women’s Day, we are celebrating the wonderful women that make up Wyndham. 

Naw Say Htoo Eh Moero
Settlement Worker, Wyndham Community and Education Centre

My name is Naw Say Htoo Eh Moero and I am a settlement worker at Wyndham Community and Education Centre. I was born in Burma – which most people know as Myanmar. I am a Karen woman and mother. I lived in small village called Bway Baw Lu. It was in the Karen guerrilla zone and the headquarters of the Karen guerrilla army. When the Karen headquarter was occupied by the Burmese Army we all had to flee. My family moved to Mae Sarieng, a small town in Thailand, as an illegal migrant. Soon after this, all of our lives were threatened again, so we packed up and fled to Bangkok. Because we were illegal immigrants, we stayed in a small, one-room apartment– about 3 x 3 metres – silently, all five us, for more than three years, never leaving it once. We didn’t know if we would ever leave it again. But circumstances led us to a transit camp – like a detention centre – where we were granted refugee status by UNHCR, and received permission to go to Australia. I remember thinking at the time, getting to Australia is more difficult than getting to Heaven.

I arrived in Australia as a refugee. I could speak a little bit of English – but not well. At this time, I had my heart set on joining the military as a nurse, but my parents said, “You are a woman. You should do something that is more suitable.” So I looked around and found accounting. There were lots of jobs in the paper, so I decided to be an accountant. I enrolled at VU and started an Advanced Diploma course in Business Accounting.
I got my first job at La Porchetta Pizza Restaurant. I applied for a job as a cleaner, but was made a waitress instead. I lasted one shift. I didn’t know the name of any of the Italian food. It was so confusing. I kept mistaking the number of the tables for the name of the food. I still have the apron. I had enrolled to do a Bachelor of Business Accounting, but it was decided that it was best for me not to continue. I would have loved to have finished that course. But these are the sacrifices you make for your family and children – as a mother.

I had a series of jobs after this, including as a cleaner, a kitchen hand, and then at Coles for more than five years in customer service. During this time at Coles, and while having a baby boy, I started working in community organisations. I worked at Migrant Resource Centre Westgate, New Hope Foundation, Migrant Resource Centre North West and AMES. Contracts kept turning over and I kept finding new places to work. In 2009, I applied and received a job at Wyndham Community and Education Centre as a Settlement Worker. I’m still there. It is here that I have found the place I can really give back to the community. I remember those difficult years – especially in Bangkok, locked in that room. People helped us. That meant such a great deal to us, you cannot imagine. It is the most special thing. It is now my turn to help people in need. I cannot turn them away. When somebody comes to me for help, I remember those people who helped us. Sometimes there is nobody else. I know I can do this thing.

There are so many people I remember helping over the years. But the one I remember the most was this young single mother who had recently arrived from one of the refugee camps. She was feeling unwell, so I took her to the doctor. The doctor said, “You’re pregnant.” She had no idea. She had been raped in the refugee camp just before she left. The doctor explained how she could prepare for an abortion. I remember us sitting in the car afterwards she said, “How can I do this? I am Christian.” I told her we can do this together. I was there for all her appointments. The doctor was so shocked she was going to keep it. I don’t think he thought it was right. But I looked after her all the way. I was even there when she gave birth. I still see her now. She has a beautiful life. She has beautiful children. A job. A house. Everything.

In 2012, I was nominated and won the Lalor Award, presented by the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. Then in 2013, I was invited to Canberra because I had been nominated for Settlement Worker of the Year for Australia and had been shortlisted. I just went for the enjoyment; and only wrote my speech on a scrap of paper along the way. But then my name was called out as the winner. Again, I was on the stage receiving this award from the Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard. I can hardly remember it. It all seems like a dream.
When I think back on what I have achieved, and what I have gone through to get here, I think, “How did I do all this?” I did all of this while being a mother of two children. I still went to work and put my children with my mother. I worked from morning to night. I don’t know how I managed all that. It even surprises me.

As a woman, we are strong, passionate and resilience. We can do many things at once without notice it. I would like to encourage girls and women that we are the strong and we can do a lot of thing and make things happen.

 

Carlie Kilikas
Chief Executive Officer, Manor Court Werribee Aged Care

I am Carlie Kilikas, I am the Chief Executive Officer at Manor Court Werribee Aged Care.  Manor Court is a not for profit Ageing in Place Residential Care facility which has supported the Werribee Community for over 40 years.

I have dedicated my career to date working in the Aged and Health care sector. I genuinely care about the wellbeing of others and hope my contributions to the sector is positive for the community to ensure their life is lived to the fullest.

I entered into the Aged Care sector at the age of 17 and fell in love with the work, I had just finished high school and at the same time commenced my university degree in Accounting and Human Resources. I then also commenced a CPA and undertaking a Masters.

At the age of 30 I became one of the youngest Chief Financial Officer in the public sector.  I remember walking into the office for the first time  in that role and the one of my employees said to me ‘wow I was expecting a middle aged man, aren’t all accountants and CFOs middle aged men?’. I was definitely not a middle aged man –  I was a young woman with four children, juggling full time work and life with a young family.

Achieving my career goal of becoming a CEO has had its challenges, in terms of organisational or management opinions, work/life balance, general  life circumstances and old views on how women should contribute to family life. At present I currently juggle a full time CEO Role, a family business and 4 young children.  With the right support network and the determination any career goal can be achieved by any woman in any industry and I sincerely believe that.

 

Rebecca Beaton
Emergency Physician, Team Doctor, Werribee Football Club

I am Rebecca and I am the Emergency Physician and Team Doctor at The Werribee Football Club. Growing up in a relatively small community I never had any female role models in the career or lifestyle that I wanted to pursue.  

Being focused on medicine, and then later specifically emergency and sports specialties, it was a male dominated field and I found myself with mostly male role models and mentors.  Recognising this early gave me focus on never being given a leg up due to being female and wanting to be as good (or better) than my peers regardless of their gender.   This wasn’t always easy and requires not only discipline but sometimes a bit of audacity.

I strive now to not only be a good role model in my career but also in the community so that other young women have an example that they can look up to and acknowledge that they can achieve whatever they want through unwavering discipline and hard work.   Any level of greatness can be achieved with courage.

 

Hannah Bornsztejn
STEM teacher and advocate, VU Polytechnic

I am Hannah and I currently teach Science units within the Foundation Studies course at VU Polytechnic. As a science teacher, I am very passionate and active in the promotion of STEM for future generations to come. I have helped to create a university STEM club as well as acting as a STEM mentor for my students. I also ensure that diverse cultures are represented at the university as a Cultural Diversity Champion and is able to ask questions and analyse policies as an Academic Board member.

Community is very import and and always try to give back when I can. I have volunteered to be Secretary of the VCE Biology Teachers Network, helping and networking with a fabulous group of secondary teachers. Alongside teaching, I have a special interest in quality teaching and learning, curriculum and assessment as well as academic integrity. The major challenge I face is sometimes agreeing to too many projects simultaneously!

My advice for the next generation would be to jump in, ask questions and try new things. You never know where an opportunity may lead you! 

 

Jacinta Stafford
Employment Coordinator, Wyndham Community and Education Centre

I am Jacinta Stafford, the Employment Coordinator at Wyndham Community and Education Centre. I was born and bred in Melbourne and ironically, had no real clear idea of a career trajectory coming out of school.

I always knew I wanted to help people, so I started to study Psychology and Youth work but struggled to find the right fit in amidst all the theory, so instead attempted to enter the workforce.  Like so many people I now work with, I struggled to get into the very competitive job market that required experience but would not provide the entry level opportunity to gain that experience. I attended my fair share of intimidating job interviews and struggled to progress through the process. I gained first hand experience on the shattering impact this can have on self confidence.

It was only after answering a job advertisement on Seek, I began my career in employment services as a receptionist and found my career path. After completing a traineeship in community service, I worked within the federal job active system progressing through administration, case management and training roles over the last 13 years within non for profit organisations and government agencies around Wyndham.
Four years ago I was fortunate to stumble across a new role advertised at Wyndham CEC and jumped at the chance to work for an organisation that shares my passion and commitment to supporting community in improving lives on a larger scale. 

One of the best parts of my role is to create group programs aimed at increasing women’s participation within the workforce. I also get to assist individual woman wanting to enter into education and employment and support their progression. It is always so exciting to witness the increase of confidence and autonomy that is a side effect of reaching these goals.  Even in 2021 there is still an undeniable gender gap in accessing and securing employment opportunities, and it is one of the many areas our team are passionate about improving for women by encouraging ongoing education, targeting specific sectors to increase opportunities and tailoring recruitment drives to support women within the workplace. 

It never ceases to amaze me that so of the wonderful women that I have the privilege to support are unable to identify their own skills and capabilities and fail to recognize how much they have to share and contribute. Many of these incredible women have come from war torn countries, have had to overcome language barriers,  had physical or mental health issues and have overcome more obstacles than I can fathom, often whilst balancing motherhood. They inspire me daily with their hope, resilience and determination to progress towards their goals; to better their lives and the lives of those around them. 

My hope is that girls of the next generation will intrinsically know that they are powerful and can achieve whatever they set their mind to. My even greater wish is that they learn this as a result of watching us, as their role models striving to achieving our goals and aspirations, even when we don’t know if it is possible. One of my favourite sayings is that of Audrey Hepburn “Nothing is impossible, the word itself says I’m possible.”

 

Isobel Joyce
Resident, Manor Court Werribee Aged Care

My name is Isobel Joyce and I am a current resident at Manor Court Werribee Aged Care. I was born in 1918 (I will be celebrating my 103rd birthday this year) and am one of 10 children. I have six sisters and and three brothers.  I was born just after Amesty Day (the end of the World War 1) and to commemorate the occasion, my parents gave me the middle name ‘Victory’.

Before becoming a full time mother to two boys, I used to work in an ammunitions factory in Melbourne. During World War II, I would often babysit my families children and babies while they went off to work. After the war, I became a full time carer for my sister who suffered from dementia, I was was her carer for over 30 years. During this time, I also worked a restaurant called McClures in St Kilda.

I went for my license at a young age, however I never drove. I began driving in 1982 after my husband had passed, I was 64 years old and only just starting to drive on my own! Even I amazed myself with this feat.

I am a strong determined woman (the staff at Manor Court can attest to this) and will see things through, in the past I was a champion lawn bowler and I still continue bowl today at the home. Along with bowls, I also join in the daily exercise group and love spending my time outside in the sunshine and folding serviettes for the dining room. My advice to the younger generation is to count your pennies and know where they are. 

 

Professor Vasso Apostolopoulos
Associate Provost, Research Partnerships, Immunology and Translational Research Group Leader, Victoria University

My name is Professor Vasso Apostolopoulos and I am an Associate Provost for Research Partnerships at Victoria University. I was born in the west (Footscray hospital), raised in the west (St Albans), travelled the world, returned to Melbourne and living back in the west.

Being of Greek background I was often teased at school because of my name, called a ‘wog’ and because I was one of the smart kids in class, I was teased for that too. At the time it was not cool to be smart, I was called a nerd, it was not cool to be a nerd. It was cool to smoke, put 2 cm of make up on and have boyfriends, off course I was not cool. Despite these hurdles, I went to University of Melbourne, and in 1995 I received my PhD and in 2000 the Advanced certificate in Protein Crystallography from University of London.

I have undertaken research at the Austin Research Institute, Burnet Institute Australia, Sir William Dunn School of Pathology Oxford University, Scripps Research Institute USA, Mater Medical Research Institute Brisbane. My expertise is in the areas of immunology, crystallography, cellular biology, translational research and development of drugs and vaccines. I have Directed a number of research programs at the Austin Research Institute, the Burnet Institute, Centre for Chronic Disease at Victoria University, and, at the Institute for Health and Sport, VU.

I was the Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research (interim), the Pro Vice Chancellor Research Partnerships and am currently the Associate Provost (Research Partnerships) at Victoria University. I have received >100 awards, some of which include, the Premier’s Award for Medical Research, Young Australian of the Year (Vic), Channel 10/Herald Sun Young Achiever of the Year, Victorian Tall Poppy Award, inductee into the Victorian Honour Roll of Women, Greek Australian of the Year, Woman of the Year and, was named as one of the most successful Greeks abroad by the prestigious Times magazine.

I am also a recipient of The Order of the Phoenix, and Commander from the President of Greece. I was an Australia Day Ambassador and Patron of Women’s Wellness West Network and am currently the Patron of Food for Thought Network. I have published >405 research papers and books, am an inventor on 18 patents and 90 sub-patents and am an editor of a number of research journals. My current interests are treating chronic diseases with an immunological focus, in particular in the areas of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, cancer, mental health and drug addiction. More recently, her lab is working on developing drugs against coronavirus and understanding the effects that coronavirus has on the human body.

Getting to where I am now, sounds like its been an easy straight line. It definitely has not. Along the way there has been a lot of hatred, jealousy, and many obstacles, even today I face jealously. Determination and hard work and persistence, has enabled me to not give up and keep going. To all the young females out there, if you want to achieve, do not let obstacles get in your way, overcome them and move on, just keep going and never give up, you’ll get there. Oh, remember the girls that teased me when I was at school that I was not cool? Now they claim we were good friends at school.

 

Jmara Hockley Samon  & Rylie Padjen 
Werribee Football Club


My name is Jmara Hockley (pictured left), and I am the Strength and Conditioning Rehab Specialist at the Werribee Football Club.  This year I am celebrating my sixth season with the club.

It has been a wonderful experience watching the club change and grow over the last few years and having the opportunity to grow along with it. Starting out as an intern, I delved into the world of high performance sport and fell in love with it. Through the years, I’ve been involved in nutrition, data analysis, strength and conditioning and now have worked my way to the position of Head of Strength and Rehabilitation. 

Being in a position that holds a lot of responsibility of the athletes it can be daunting at times, especially being a women in such a male-dominated industry, but it drives me more to be the best I can for the athletes, the team and for my own professional development. It is great to see the landscape and the dynamics of the sport changing and having more women in a multitude of roles at the club brings a brilliant dynamic to the team. 

My name is Rylie (pictured right) and I am the Club Nutritionist at the Werribee Football Club. I started at the club as a nutrition intern two years ago through a placement opportunity I gained during my undergrad at Deakin University. I’m now completing the Masters of Dietetics and have recently taken over as Head of Nutrition at Werribee Football Club. 

I’ve played elite sport since I was 15 and have represented Australia in ice hockey since 2004. As a female athlete myself, I’m extremely passionate about working in sport, and I’ve learned so much from working with the team at Werribee.  It’s my career goal to use the knowledge I’ve gained working in football to pursue a position as a sports dietitian in the AFLW.  It’s a great time to be a female in sport, and the athletes of the AFLW are courageous ad truly inspiring. 

If I have one piece of advice for females working in sport, and for the younger generations coming through, it would be to know your worth. We, as women, are intuitive, compassionate, and intelligent, and we have so much to offer the sporting industry. Things are changing, and there are more opportunities for females competing and working in elite sport than ever before. Believe in yourself and if an opportunity arises, take it and don’t look back.

 

Valeska Zuniga-Chondo
Community Strengthening Manager, Wyndham Community & Education Centre

My name is Valeska Zuniga-Chondo, I migrated to Australia in 1992 from Chile in South America, I was 16 almost 17 years of age and I did not speak a word of English. After a failed attempt to complete my VCE due to my poor English, I dropped out of school and worked in public transport cleaning at the Footscray Market. From there I began work at a warehouse in West Footscray, but felt that I needed something more to challenge myself. So, at the age of 26 I enrolled myself  in a Diploma of community services at VU TAFE. 

In 2001 as part of a group community development subject I was undertaking, we decided that this was best way of learning and so we created a new organization to meet the need of a disadvantaged group in the community which we named ASRC. Over the last 20 years, this organization has grown considerably and continues to meet the need of Asylum Seekers.

After graduating from my Diploma course, I wanted to enroll in the Bachelor of Social Work. At first I was scared that my English as second language would not be up to scratch with a university degree but then I thought; what is the worst that can happen? I’ll spell a word wrong, so I enrolled.

I can proudly say that I am the first member of my family to graduate from University. Since graduating, I have worked most of my professional career in refuge settlement services; first as a case worker, then as a senior case worker and then as a team leader and finally as an acting regional and senior manager on numerous occasions.

Since 2017 I’m the Community strengthening Manager at Wyndham Community and Education Centre. On top of this, I sit as the Chair Hobsons Bay Intercultural Services Network, Co-Chair Wyndham Humanitarian Network, and I’m a member of the Regional Advisory Council for the Victorian Multicultural Commission

My advice for girls and young women is to find what you love to do, find your passion and work hard to achieve your goals. Surround yourself with women that will lift you up and praise your achievements – those are the friendships that you need to foster. Encourage a strong and powerful sisterhood in your circle of friends, I could have never done it without my strong inspiring women tribe.