After a life that presented her with numerous difficulties, including a diagnosis of a degenerative eye condition at just 14, Sakuni Mahendran found a lifeline to her dream career in pharmacy, through the Adam Scott Foundation Scholarship.
The scholarship is designed to help students who are experiencing hardship or disadvantage to commence their undergraduate studies.
“I have family members who have had experiences with scholarships,” she says. “From there it was about putting into words what I had been through.”
The story she tells begins with the divorce of her parents when she was nine years old. Not long after, her father died leaving the financial burden of her upbringing with her mother who was living with bipolar disorder and dealing with it as best she could.
Mahendran’s ‘big family of strong women’ helped her through, with an aunt taking on her care and education when things became too difficult for her mother. Though only seeing her mother once a week was difficult, it’s in Mahendran’s nature to find the positives.
“I have spent most of my life with older people and I’ve been very nurtured in that,” she says.
Amid all this came the diagnosis of macular dystrophy; a rare eye condition which effects the central retina. Mahendran will not go blind, but her sight has declined. “It will be a challenge balancing the condition with my education,” she admits. But she is determined because she wants so passionately to work as a pharmacist.
That insight came after her Higher School Certificate, with a part time job in a pharmacy. “It was inspiring to see how pharmacists manage people,” she says. “I think it’s a job that doesn’t get the recognition that it deserves, particularly the way they bring medicine to the community.”
It was about putting into words what I had been through.
With her goal set, she had to think practically about how she could begin studying for it; also aware that her reduced eyesight might work against her. Fortunately, she had heard about the Adam Scott Foundation Scholarship and filled in the application. Mahendran was interviewed and a few days later, she was elated to be selected as the inaugural recipient of the scholarship.
The scholarship is another life changing experience for the now 18-year-old pharmacy student who wants to work producing life-saving medications that are accessible to everyone.
“I am privileged to have been given a scholarship that can help me put aside my limitations and push to see what I can do, while I still have sight, and while I can still help people,” she says.
It was only six years ago that Emmanuel Garley and his four siblings were on a plane by themselves after leaving Liberia, West Africa to travel to their new home in Australia as refugees.
The Ebola virus had broken out and the then 13-year-old Emmanuel, as the eldest, was responsible for looking after his brother and sisters on a flight with no guardians or parents. “We arrived in Australia after three days and went off to live with my aunty,” he says.
At the time, Garley couldn’t envisage a university future, but a memory kept teasing at the idea, “My grandfather was a nurse and I used to help him sell in the chemist. He was supposed to become a doctor but then my father was born. Because of that he turned down his scholarship.”
Coming to Australia, Garley’s own ambition began growing. He continues, “I felt that now I was here, I was more drawn to pursuing medicine. That was my grandfather’s influence. There is something in me to fulfil what he could not,” Garley says. When his grandfather died a few years ago, it further fuelled his aspirations.
Still, there were obstacles. Despite coming to Australia for a better life, things here were not always easy for Garley. He would go to school during the day, return home and leave again for work to help pay the bills. “I also helped to look after my siblings and held other responsibilities at home,” Garley says. “My study times would run very late into the night.”
Determined to find a way forward, Garley wrote to organisations asking if they had scholarships or support programs. “I really wanted this and was not going to let anything stop me,” he says. One of those organisations was the Adam Scott Foundation. He didn’t win the scholarship, but the Foundation was so impressed by him as runner-up, they offered him a $5000 bursary payment.
“When I got the call, I was over the moon,” he says. “I was excited for the support, but more so that I had been selected as part of the top ten students for a very competitive award.”
In addition to the bursary, the now Bachelor of Science (Medical Science) student received support from the University of Sydney Student Life Award and a two-year grant from non-profit organisation, Youth Off the Streets. “This support has helped me, but it has also reduced the stress on my family.”
The ultimate dream for Garley? “I would love to build a hospital in Liberia in my Grandfather’s name.”
The goal was to help undergraduate students with academic potential and leadership skills who were facing hardship or disadvantage. With a $1.6 million donation in 2019, the Adam Scott Foundation did just that. Receiving scholarships of up to $50,000, successful applicants can cover University fees, living expenses and, where applicable, residency at University-owned accommodation. This is how the Adam Scott Foundation is making a better world by helping young people reach their potential.