Graduating GEGAC Trainees, Thaliah Wilson and Sharona Pearce. Photo: Jake Lynch/GEGAC

Some of her earliest childhood memories are of GEGAC.

As a little girl, Sharona Pearce would tuck herself under the counter at the old GEGAC medical reception building, where her Nan, Aunty Marion, worked.

Daughter of Linda Pearce and grandchild of Aunty Marion and Uncle Jumbo, Sharona is one of several young Aboriginal people now at GEGAC with deep family connections to the place, and to the Elders who fought for and founded GEGAC back in the 1970s.

Thaliah Wilson remembers being around GEGAC as a kid, at the medical service and cultural events.

“We used to come and see Aunty Marion,” Thaliah says. “I remember there always being family around. It was good here because you’d always see the same familiar faces.”

That connection to GEGAC looks set to continue.

Sharona and Thaliah last week graduated with their Certificate III in Individual Support through TAFE Gippsland, and at the same time completed a year-long traineeship with the Elders and HACC team at GEGAC.

Over the past 18 months the pair have been invaluable members of the Elders and HACC team, which gets through a power of work supporting community in a wide range of ways, from hosting Elders luncheons and Planned Activity Groups, providing personal care and home care, doing home visits, providing transportation for community, and even catering for sorry business, cultural events, and families in need.

“Thaliah and Sharona have been fantastic,” says Brooke Harkensee, GEGAC’s Elders and HACC Manager. “The whole team is very proud of their achievements.”

“They have both blossomed from the two shy girls that started 18 months ago. From the day they started it was like they had always been here. The fact that they already had trust and connections within the community we serve made it easier for the girls to transition into their roles.”

In addition to their study in classroom, Thaliah and Sharona completed more than 220 placement hours doing Planned Activity Groups, providing personal and home care, doing home visits, and providing catering and transportation for community.

Thaliah and Sharona also completed 18 hours of clinical training with GEGAC Medical Practice Manager Tammy Chatwin, learning how to do things like dress wounds, take blood pressure and measure vitals, and provide support for chronic health conditions.

Being a personal carer/home care worker can be demanding work. And it’s not for everyone.

But for Sharona and Thaliah, being able to care for the Elders of this community that had, in turn, cared for so many others over the years, was a big motivator.

“For me it was really about giving back to the Elders, about forming a relationship with them,” Sharona says.

Thaliah agrees.

“I feel privileged to have that bond with them now,” she says. “I’ll see them down the street, and we’ll have a yarn and a joke. They always look out for us now. I feel very appreciated, and privileged.”

Sharona goes quiet for a moment, in thought.

Then she says “I wish my Nan was here. I wish she was here so I could provide this care for her. I think she’d be proud of both of us.”

Everyone at GEGAC is certainly proud of you both.

Thaliah and Sharona have a lot of praise for TAFE Gippsland and their teacher Haley Baron, and their classmates.

“We had a great experience at TAFE,” Thaliah says. “Although we were the only Aboriginal students in the class, we always felt supported. It was a good group. When it came to the cultural side, our teacher did a great job of making sure we were comfortable – she’d ask us about certain things and make sure we were okay with what was being asked.”

What now? Both women are already looking to the future.

“I’m thinking about doing a Diploma of Nursing,” Thaliah says. “I have always been interested in that. Maybe I’ll become a paramedic. I like blood!”

Sharona isn’t certain of what her next step will be – but she is certain of one thing.

“I’m not finished,” she says. “This is just a stepping stone. I want to keep learning, keep getting certificates. I want to continue to better myself.”

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