Monday, 17 Jun 2019

Bobbie’s story: thriving in the face of adversity

When Bobbie was four, she lost her father; when she was nine, her mother died. Both parents died from heroin overdoses. When she was a teenager, many of Bobbie’s high school friends also died from drug and alcohol related harms. But, despite what must have seemed like an endless loop of tragedy and loss, Bobbie had a belief: that every child deserves to live a safe and healthy life, and a dream: to help kids like her face the challenges of life…

“Growing up I didn’t have a lot. My older sister had to pretty much raise me and my brother. We never had much food in the house. We didn’t get to go on a lot of excursions, didn’t get to go to friend’s houses, and friends weren’t allowed to come to my house.

Life Education Educator Bobbie

“After my mum died I was sent to live with my stepdad. He had to teach me a lot: how to take care of myself, how to eat well – all the things that kids get taught as a child – I was only learning them at the age of 9.”

Understanding that her parents had been addicted to drugs when she was growing up gave Bobbie a new perspective, and a goal.

I never knew that my mum and dad were using drugs. I just thought that mum was asleep and that she was always sick.  I remember the day my stepdad sat me down and explained to me that they were drug addicts, and what that meant. I knew from then that I wanted to work with other kids like me and help them.”

Growing up in the face of such adversity wasn’t easy. When you feel like you’re not good enough, school can be a hard place.

“As a kid I carried a lot of trauma – and I still do. I was bullied a lot in primary school. I grew up in the Eastern suburbs of Sydney and I was different to the other kids.  The bullying was so bad that I used to not want to go to school.

“By the time I got to high school, I was shut down. I always hung out with the dysfunctional kids because that’s where I felt at home.”

Bobbie says a lack of self-worth can close off possibilities.

“My friends and I thought that we didn’t really amount to much. When you grow up surrounded by poverty, that’s your view of the world.   All my friends thought they were going to get pregnant by the time they were 16 or 17, or end up in jail.

“I lost a lot of friends in high school to drug and alcohol abuse and bad lifestyle choices. I went to too many funerals.”

Bobbie dropped out of high school at the start of year 12 and moved out of home.

“I kicked around for a few years. Life was tough. But I decided that I didn’t want to end up like all my friends.”

Then eight years ago Bobbie started studying community services and youth work, and hasn’t looked back. Bobbie now works as a secondary school educator with Life Education.

“My biggest achievement was finishing my studies. I never thought I was going to finish school, and I never dreamed I could have had a career doing something that I am passionate about.

“I love working with young people. When the job came up with Life Education, it was a perfect fit.

“Part of my job involves going to Stewart House (an organisation that cares for children in need) – where I went as a kid. When I tell the kids that and they see that someone from the same background as them is now a teacher, it opens their eyes to the possibilities.

“I talk to the kids on a level they can relate to. Halfway through teaching, I often see light bulb moments – something clicks. I’ve had kids come up to me at the end and tell me how they appreciate hearing about what I’ve said. That’s the best part of my job.”

For Bobbie, education is the key to helping young people navigate the dangers of drugs and alcohol. 

“Going into schools and opening up those conversations breaks the stigma that can surround drugs and alcohol. Often kids are fearful about talking about these things. But once we start these conversations and they see that they aren’t going to get in trouble by asking a question, they start to feel comfortable.

Bobbie. Life Education NSW secondary school educator

“We teach kids that they don’t have to go and party every weekend, and give them the skills to stay safe if they find themselves in a situation that involves drugs or alcohol.

"If we'd had this type of education when we were kids, it could have saved the lives of my friends."

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