We all know how important it is that every child in Australia receives a quality education. That’s why, when shopping instore or online for your back-to-school supplies this January and February, you can join Officeworks and The Smith Family in helping break the cycle of disadvantage by supporting a child’s education through the Officeworks Back to School Appeal.

For many young Australians, the start of the school year is filled with excitement – whether that be seeing old friends, making new ones or finally getting to use their brand new pencils and books. But, for some of the 1.2 million children and young Australians living in poverty today, that excitement is often dampened by more grown-up problems, such as financial struggles at home.

The Officeworks Back to School Appeal helps fund The Smith Family’s Learning for Life program, which supports families and children experiencing disadvantage by providing financial, personal and extra learning support to students who need it most.

Since the Back to School Appeal began, customers and team members have contributed $5.27 million to The Smith Family, enabling 7,674 one-year Learning for Life sponsorships to be provided to students across Australia. One of the students in the program is Roghayeh, above right, who immigrated to Australia from Iran with her mother and siblings after her father passed away. 

The Importance of Education for All Children

A student in The Smith Family’s Learning for Life program, Roghayeh moved to Australia from Iran with her family.
A student in The Smith Family’s Learning for Life program, Roghayeh moved to Australia from Iran with her family.

The daughter of Afghan refugees living in Iran, Roghayeh had a lifelong love of education and a dream to succeed, which was instilled in her by her father – a teacher who believed in the importance of an education, no matter your gender.

When her family moved to Australia after her father died, Roghayeh was even more committed to making him proud. “When I lost [my dad], it was very, heartbreaking. It felt like I lost my role model,” she says. “His dream was for his children to be educated because he understood the power of education and how it could change someone’s life. He worked incredibly hard to send my siblings and I to school for one year [in Iran]. That’s what inspired me to continue learning, continue growing.” 

Those first few years in Australia were tough for Roghayeh and her family. Not only was she the first student in her school to wear a headscarf, she also struggled to communicate with her classmates as she learnt English. 

“I was made fun of for the way I looked,” she says. “I wasn’t the same. I wasn’t the normal, typical student that you see every day. I was different. When I was being bullied, I just thought that this is too much – I just want to go home. I don’t want to get an education. I don’t want to go to school.”

Language barriers also made finding employment difficult for her family. “It was difficult to purchase our textbooks and our uniforms and to be able to go to school stress-free,” says Roghayeh. “I wasn’t able to pay for some camps that we were going to.”

“After The Smith Family [became involved], I loved going on camps,” she says. “It meant I could build a better connection and relationship with my peers and my school teachers, and make a lot more friends, while still having the opportunity to learn and grow in different ways.”

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How The Smith Family’s Learning for Life Program Changes Lives

The Smith Family came into Roghayeh’s life when she was 15 years old. “I think they saw that I was really struggling in school because of our financial situation, and my little siblings were struggling as well,” she says. “They provided support and were able to make school life better for us.”

The Learning for Life program helped Roghayeh and her siblings with financial support that allowed them to buy school essentials, like uniforms and textbooks. “[We] were able to focus on our studies a bit more, and we noticed that we got a lot better results,” she says. “We were able to contribute and participate in different activities in school, which was amazing. It also lessened the stress on my family and mum. It really made us happier and more stable.”

The Benefits of The Smith Family’s Learning for Life Program

Claire, a Family Partnerships Coordinator from The Smith Family supports students like Roghayeh throughout their schooling journey.
Claire, a Family Partnerships Coordinator from The Smith Family supports students like Roghayeh throughout their schooling journey.

A key part of the program is the personalised support provided by a Family Partnerships Coordinator. For Roghayeh and her three younger siblings that may mean a phone call just checking in, or the offer of additional out-of-school learning and mentoring programs.

Claire, a Family Partnerships Coordinator, knows first-hand just how important this relationship is. “Students receive holistic, long-term support throughout their educational journey,” Claire says. “We find that with our help, students are motivated and empowered to continue to work on their aspirations while at school, and even after their completion of our program.”

The positive impact is often felt by families too, says Claire. “We see families developing the confidence to walk alongside their children in their education journey, and having the confidence to join their school parent committees, so they can have an active say about their children’s education, school culture and community.”

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A Bright Future for Learning for Life Students

Roghayeh and her sister Reihaneh (left) have felt greatly supported by The Smith Family.
Roghayeh and her sister Reihaneh (left) have felt greatly supported by The Smith Family.

As one of the first people in her family to have a tertiary education, Roghayeh is determined to use her experience to help pave the way for future generations. Now pursuing a Bachelor of Law and Commerce, she wants to become a human rights lawyer. “I want to help other people who were once just like me and who experience the same difficulties in life,” she says. “I want to be a voice for the voiceless and provide an opportunity and platform for them to speak up for the issues they are facing.”

“To be one of the first in my family to have a tertiary education means a lot to me. It means that I was able to live my father’s dream,” says Roghayeh.

How to Support The Smith Family’s Learning for Life Program

When completing your back to school shop this January and February at Officeworks, you can help raise vital funds to support The Smith Family’s Learning for Life program by purchasing a donation card for $2, $5, $10 or $20. These funds go directly into helping students like Roghayeh to fully participate in their education and pursue a better, brighter future.

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