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Hand up not a hand out -

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Hand up not a hand out

Broadcast: 01/02/2010

Reporter: Brigid Donovan

Independent charity The Smith Family is helping to ease the pressure on disadvantaged families at
an expensive time of year - the start of the school year. A new program has been set up by the
organisation that involves sponsorship of underprivileged kids and the establishment of Smith
Family offices inside schools in disadvantaged areas.


KERRY O'BRIEN, PRESENTER: The annual post-Christmas trek back to school is stressful enough in most
households, but it's particularly challenging for parents who don't have the means to make sure
their children are sent off with the right uniform and equipment to start the year. Increasingly,
it's left to welfare groups to fill the gap, with a leading independent charity recently
establishing its own offices inside schools in disadvantaged areas. Brigid Donovan reports.

BRIGID DONOVAN, REPORTER: It's a big day for this household in Sydney's west, with Mariam Behnam
starting high school and her brother Sarmad beginning Year 12. After arriving in Australia as
refugees from Iraq in 1997, education has been a top priority for this family, despite the
challenging cards life has dealt them.

SARMAD BENHAM, STUDENT: The weight on our shoulders is fairly incredible, especially with having a
disabled sister and a single parent. But, that's still no excuse, you know, because our future and
education is important and we still have to, you know, try our hardest in school.

BRIGID DONOVAN: Their father, Amir Benham, is the full-time carer of their disabled sister Lidia.
Life has been particularly tough since he separated from their mother seven years ago.

AMIR BENHAM, FATHER (voiceover translation): I've worked very hard trying to raise my kids and make
sure they get a good education so they can prosper in the future, and it's very important for me to
see my children prosper and live life to the fullest.

BRIGID DONOVAN: In addition to the 30,000 children on Learning For Life scholarships, the Smith
Family provides mentors, leadership programs and after school learning clubs.

MIRIAM BENHAM, STUDENT: We've been shopping for lots of books, pencils, pens - everything, yeah.
All the things cost about $100 or more dollars.

BRIGID DONOVAN: As well as helping with the cost of school essentials, the Smith Family hopes
immersing themselves at the grassroots level will give students extra confidence at a vulnerable
stage of their lives.

ELAINE HENRY, SMITH FAMILY CEO: Unfortunately in Australia we saw about 20 per cent of our kids
being left behind. And it was something that was starting to happen generation after generation.
And it seemed that a lot of effort was going into providing people with a hand out instead of a
hand up.

BRIGID DONOVAN: For the Benham family, it's not just the financial support that keeps them going.
Smith Family sponsors have an ongoing relationship with their students.

SARMAD BENHAM: It's also important to kind of be acknowledged by people and see that there is
support out there for you, not just financial, but, you know, the fact that they, you know, write
letters and check up on you, and that kind of drives you to do better.

BRIGID DONOVAN: It's been a tough 12 months for the Smith Family, with the global financial crisis
and other high-profile disaster funds draining resources away from the 90-year-old charity.

Their latest campaign aims to connect the haves with the have nots by encouraging Australians to
sponsor a child in their own country. In some schools, the Smith Family even has its own office
such as this school in Melbourne's north.

ELAINE HENRY: We can form the trusting relationships. We do the bridging between the have and have
nots, if you like. I don't think government could do that.

got available to you that you can use to supplement your existing resources that have been provided
to the school. Both of the Smith workers attend all of our staff meetings, they're very integrated
into the staff in working with them and that's an important step forward. And then they're going
out into the broader community and supporting us there and bringing families in and making sure
we're able to support them if we need to in various ways.

ELAINE HENRY: We all want to belong. We don't want to be marginalised. We want to look and feel and
think the same as others, especially kids going to school. It's just something natural. And, you
know, even the little ones can understand very sensitively that they're different. They can
understand that mum or dad just can't afford that excursion or send them off to swimming.

BRIGID DONOVAN: It's the extras that children from lower income families often miss out on. The
Smith Family has joined forces with Lifesaving Victoria and state and local governments to provide
free swimming lessons to these new migrants in Melbourne's western suburbs.

MUMU KUNOO, MIGRANT (voiceover translation): I'd like to thank the Smith Family because this is
helping my children to be healthier and have some social life in Australia.

BRIGID DONOVAN: As the days in the pool are coming to an end, another Melbourne family is shopping
for new school shoes. For single mother of two Brigette Fletcher, the Smith Family has taken the
stress out of the return to school blues.

BRIGETTE FLETCHER, MOTHER: This does give me that little bit of freedom, I suppose, to be able to
go and get them what they do require for school, and, you know, I s'pose not have to write notes
every week because they haven't got their proper school uniform on.

BRIGID DONOVAN: With term one having just begun, the Smith Family hopes to increase its presence in
schools in coming years.

GLENN PROCTOR: Kids that stay on to Year 12 and the Smith Family are supporting us in that are
successful and complete Year 12, then they've got a great opportunity of being successful in life.

BRIGID DONOVAN: And with the Smith Family's support, their scholarship holders are also continuing
their education beyond the school grounds.

ELAINE HENRY: We've had a jump up from 21 per cent of the kids who made it to Year 12 in 2005 going
to tertiary studies, to over 50 per cent. So we know that what we're doing and what the people of
Australia who are part of the Smith Family in this endeavour are doing, is having an impact. And
then of course Australia gets a greater percentage of its population into the workforce as
productive citizens.

KERRY O'BRIEN: That report from Brigid Donovan.