How $500 broke my cycle of socio-economic disadvantage

Initially limited by my family’s financial circumstances, I’ve always been aware that I’d need to overcome barriers to achieve my dreams. Fast forward to the present day and I’m now (I’d like to think) an industry leader within the world of arts and events, as well as the proud owner of my own business.

Despite my parents’ incredible work ethic and commitment to supporting mine and my sister’s dreams, they were sadly always restricted by their socio-economic status when we were growing up.

Learning from my parents, I’ve always understood that I’d have to work hard to achieve success, and be willing to take risks by pursuing all the opportunities I’ve been fortunate enough to be exposed to. These were the kind of mantras my mum instilled in me, as she rushed out the door to work each night to earn money to support our family.

I grew up in a small flat in Footscray where I didn’t have a bedroom and would sleep in the living room with my fold-out bed that I would wheel out every night and pack away every morning.

Commencing work the age of fourteen to help alleviate the financial burden on my family, I attempted to juggle high school, part time work and dedicate time to volunteer in the community, organising on cultural and arts events where possible. I never saw an option to do anything else, I knew I had to work hard – that’s just how it was.

Despite working seven days a week at the age of fourteen, I realised that ‘determination’ and ‘hard work’ didn’t seem to be enough. Who was I kidding? I couldn’t even afford the most basic things like textbooks and a calculator.

It was then that my amazing student welfare teacher nominated me for a Western Chances scholarship, providing funding for small items that have a big impact, enabling me to purchase school materials and reduce my part time work. I was extremely fortunate.

The scholarship was worth $500. To some people, $500 may not be a lot of money. Some can earn that in a few days – maybe even a few hours. But $500 was a huge amount for my family and me. It meant that I had an opportunity to pursue my goals and break the cycle of disadvantage.

For me, a year ten school student of Asian descent in Melbourne’s West, that was huge.

I then went on to complete a Bachelor of Production in Stage Management at the University of Melbourne, Victorian College of the Arts, with first class honours, and continued my volunteer work with various theatre shows and events.

It was a massive achievement to be the first person in my family to ever complete a degree. Delving into the world of freelancing, by the age of 20 I’d established my own production and events management business: JT. Production Management.

Fast forward six years, my company has provided event production services for a fair few corporate, not-for-profit, state and local government organisations including White Night Melbourne, University of Melbourne, Melbourne International Comedy Festival and the Melbourne Theatre Company. Coming full circle, I’m also proud to run Western Chances’ two major annual events.

I was also appointed by the State Government to the Multicultural Small Business Ministerial Council in 2016 and was extremely honoured to receive The Victorian Young Achievers award that same year. I truly am so grateful for all the opportunities I’ve been given, that many from financially unstable backgrounds aren’t lucky enough to receive.

I’m proud to say that my partner and I donate back to Western Chances on a monthly basis so that we can help other young people like me. I’m really passionate about raising awareness for this amazing scheme and the gratitude I have for Western Chances.

Western Chances is an organisation that provides young people in Melbourne’s west with an opportunity to pursue their education and career goals through scholarships and life-changing personal and professional development opportunities.

It’s supported by a number of organisations and philanthropists, including the Riverlee Foundation.

My story is part of the Riverlee Foundation’s efforts to highlight the amazing work Western Chances does within the community.

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