“Be curious, proactive and explore all the opportunities that come your way because you never know where they may lead you.”
Second-year UNSW Commerce student and Co-op Scholar Adam Hegedus believes in the power of education and making the most of every opportunity. The 19-year-old social entrepreneur from Coogee in Sydney has launched a charity Educating the Future, which is transforming young lives in Timor-Leste.
Adam and his team raised more than $30,000 to help build the charity’s first facility, a preschool in Railaco Motahare, a disadvantaged rural area in Timor-Leste’s north-west.
Once completed, pupils from five surrounding communities will have access to free preschool education offered by teachers trained by the charity and sponsored by Australians. Construction on the school is expected to begin within weeks.
“We have enough funds, now it’s all about timing and appropriate measures. We are working closely with local community members, particularly the elders and chiefs of the villages.”
The charity hopes to have the school finished by year’s end. “We will help oversee it but we are in the trusting hands with the local community.”
The idea to help youth in Timor-Leste came about when Adam and Waverley College school friend Alessandro Piovano returned from a high school immersion trip to the South-East Asian nation in 2014. The pair had noticed the stark disparity between Australia and Timor, where many students weren’t able to access education, not because they didn’t want to but simply because school infrastructure didn’t exist.
“That spurred us to play our small part to help,” Adam recalls.
The pair embarked on what they call an “audacious trek”, walking 758km from Sydney to Byron Bay over 21 days, arriving in time for Schoolies Week. During this time, they raised their initial funds and gained media attention from the likes of TV Channels 7, 9 and 10.
“We got to celebrate the importance of education and show how grateful we were for everything we have. And we were also able, in a small way, to break the stigma around Schoolies that says it’s all about drinking and partying.”
The early fundraising success inspired the friends to continue. In 2016, they established an official board, formed a team predominantly from UNSW and registered Educating the Future as a non-for-profit organisation. They were nominated for Young Australians of the Year for their work and are currently detailing their journey in a novel.
Adam credits UNSW with providing the conditions the charity needed to succeed. “University offers enormous opportunities for anyone who wants to try new things and pursue entrepreneurial ideas that they are passionate about,” he says.
“Our ideas have been spurred by the students involved. All of our core team is made up of Uni students – essentially we are a student-run organisation,” he says.
Adam sees himself as an entrepreneur, “but what I’m doing I guess is social entrepreneurship -- helping the world through thinking differently.”
A dinner organised by the charity recently raised a further $16,000. Guest speaker was former child soldier, refugee and NSW Australian of the Year Deng Adut, who spoke about the importance of education. “He’s now an advocate for our organisation, which is great.”
University is a big change for most school students, Adam says.
“Unlike high school no one is going to be there to do it for you. It’s all about being self-motivated and driven, so if you don’t get out and talk to people or if you don’t go to your classes no one will be there to chase you up. The only person it will affect is you.”
He says it’s important to go to events such as O-Week, explore the nightlife and attend anything that seems interesting.
If you don’t get out and talk to people or if you don’t go to your classes no one will be there to chase you up. The only person it will affect is you.
“You can join a society or club and that will give you a lot of experiences you won’t get from just going to class. Then there are the workshops that teach new skills, and offer networking opportunities. For me it was going to the Business Information Systems Society and attending all their events. It was great for meeting new people and friends who I would eventually study with. Each Society is its own community and it’s great to have that support.”
Adam says the UNSW Co-op Scholarship program offered the main opportunities for his progress and learning. The scheme provides not only financial assistance but also mentoring, leadership training, professional development and three unique industry placements.
“Through the program I’ve recently started a six month internship with Origin Energy. It means I am able to go out into the world and experience the workforce, while getting a tester of what I like, what I don’t like and what I want to pursue in the future. A lot of other students don’t have that opportunity, so I’m really grateful.
“Co-op is a community with about 80 students in each year so it’s a big network with a lot of support, mentors and advice.”
Adam says Educating the Future will be thinking big this year.
“We intend to roll out other programs, including life empowerment lessons, teacher training and student sponsorship in Timor-Leste. And here in Australia we are looking at starting a rural NSW program delivered through innovation.”
Importantly, he’ll be following his own advice. “University is the place you will excel if you pursue your passions. Be proactive and get out there.”
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