La Trobe student Gloria Hernandez-Vesga has always been compelled to help others. Growing up during civil war in Colombia, she saw the devastating impacts of poverty and conflict firsthand.
‘My family and I were living in a conflict that had been going for more than 60 years. Walking on the streets, you’d see people who used to have everything become displaced, then homeless. It breaks your heart knowing that no-one’s addressing that situation,’ she says. ‘And that really motivated me to do social work.’
In 2012, as families around her continued to be forced from their homes, Gloria made the difficult choice to leave Colombia and strive for a university education in Australia. But on arriving in Melbourne, her chance to study was blocked by upfront fees and rising everyday costs.
‘I’d always wanted to finish university for my career. But in Australia I had to pay for my fees upfront. It was very, very stressful. My financial situation was really tough,’ she says.
‘It made it hard for me to sustain myself and study at the same time. Sometimes I’d have to say, “Okay, I’m going to buy the Myki card and leave the groceries”. It’s very hard to go to class when you’re thinking about how you’re struggling to buy food.’
Gloria’s experience of extreme financial hardship is common – recent estimates suggest financial hardship affects almost a quarter of all overseas students studying in Australia.
For Gloria, financial stress not only affected her day-to-day decisions of what to buy, but also her career confidence.
‘I thought, “What should I choose? Should I follow this path to the job I want to do, that will make me feel really good about myself? Or should I do something that gives me the money to survive?” I decided I had to try to find a way to make it easier. I found a scholarship at La Trobe and thought, “I’m going to give it a crack.” And I got it. I’m so happy that I did.’
Thanks to her La Trobe scholarship, Gloria has been able to study a Bachelor of Human Services at our Melbourne campus. She says she’s felt ‘enormous relief’ since receiving the scholarship – it’s created a financial buffer and allowed her to focus on full-time study. It’s also given her the courage to ask for time off work, so she can give back to the community as a volunteer for migration and settlement programs.
‘I can’t thank La Trobe enough for doing this. It’s given me the opportunity to afford groceries, and even the possibility to take time off work – to be able to say to my boss, “I’m not going to work today, because I’m going to do this volunteer work”,’ she says.
Above all, Gloria’s scholarship has helped her feel confident again in her future career.
‘La Trobe is one of the best unis for social sciences. I’m confident that the knowledge I’m getting in class is what I’ll need in the field.’
A talented and determined student, Gloria hopes she can use the expertise she gains at La Trobe to create lasting social change in her home country.
‘I try to think about somebody else before me. That’s what makes me happy. And if, one day, I can give my little bit in Colombia to help somebody, then I’m pretty sure my kids are going to see a better world. That’s what I hope for,’ she says.
‘I’m really grateful to La Trobe and to the person who gave this money to help my education. It’s amazing and I feel very proud that they chose me. If you have the means to donate, just do it. It really has an impact, and every little bit you put in helps somebody who needs it.’
Gloria’s scholarship was made possible through the generosity of La Trobe’s philanthropic community. Give the gift of education today.