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Monday, 17 September 2007
Page: 133

Mr HENRY (9:05 PM) —I wish to pay tribute tonight to a truly wonderful child education arrangement in Australia called the Learning for Life program initiated and developed by the Smith Family. We are constantly bombarded with requests to sponsor children in danger all over the world—a very worthy cause indeed. However, there is no shortage of kids who need our help in our own backyard.

The Smith Family estimates there are 717,000 Australian kids living in households who do not have an equal chance to grow and learn. Many of them are already behind when they start school and never get the chance to catch up or realise their abilities. No child in Australia should face such a bleak future. Many of the financially disadvantaged have never been on a school excursion, never taken part in extracurricular activities and never participated in events such as a trip to the zoo, simply because these things need extra money to participate. The Smith Family advises me that many of these kids try to avoid school on such activity days by pretending to be sick. Often they do not even tell their parents about the activity because of the financial pressure the family is under. For many low-income families these additional services are simply an unattainable, unaffordable luxury. Unfortunately, the financial pressure on some Australian families is so heavy parents are forced to choose between paying everyday bills and putting food on the table. The education needs of their children often suffer. But this is where sponsorship can make such a big difference in giving these kids a chance to build and secure a better future.

I am pleased to say that, since being elected as the member for Hasluck, I have sponsored two children in need through the Smith Family’s Learning for Life sponsorship program in Western Australia. They are Rebecca, who is in year 5 at primary school, and Jayden, who is in year 6 at primary school. It gives me a quiet sense of satisfaction to know that I can help these two young Australians to gain an education. I chose kids who are in primary school because, without the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic, it is very difficult for children to go forward in this life.

In 84 communities nationwide, the Smith Family is helping more than 26,000 disadvantaged children realise their potential through Learning for Life and its many programs. Currently, there are more than 133 Learning for Life workers working at Australian locations. They are trained professionals with backgrounds in education, social work or psychology. Learning for Life workers build community capacity by collaborating with local groups and organisations to ensure that the services delivered are relevant and meet the needs of the individual community. Since 1988, 46,000 disadvantaged students in Australia have been helped by Learning for Life—a truly wonderful and remarkable effort and record. The Smith Family has received feedback from students on how they have benefited from this much-needed support.

The Smith Family now has another sponsorship drive underway, which I would urge all Australians, and particularly all parliamentarians, around the country to support. In Western Australia, I am one of 2,000 sponsors, but the Smith Family says that it needs 7,000 more Australians to become sponsors so that more children who, through no fault of their own, need a proper education can receive just that.

Sponsorship provides direct financial assistance for essentials such as textbooks, school equipment and uniforms. It also gives our sponsored child access to a critical network of support, which includes tutoring, mentoring, coaching and literacy programs, as well as social, sporting and cultural activities and camps. One hundred per cent of your contribution will directly benefit your sponsored student. From just $27 a month—less than a dollar a day—you can sponsor an Australian child and help them to build and secure a better future.

The Smith Family’s core initiatives are delivered through Learning for Life and are based on integrated programs. These provide needed assistance to those facing financial disadvantage throughout their life and are crucial to developing a commitment to lifelong learning. This is achieved through four complementary programs which enrich and optimise the students’ learning capacity and educational experience and contribute to their sense of health and wellbeing. The four programs are financial scholarships, personal support, personal development and literacy skills. The program enables students to effectively develop their potential, overcome issues associated with social isolation and increase self-esteem and motivation. By sponsoring an Aussie kid, we are letting them know that someone else cares about them and their future—for many children that alone is something very special.