Francesca Flagiello

Social Science
Health/Medical Services
Winter 2018

Being an international student, I applied for the Aurora Internship Program with little hope to get selected: I feared that organizations working in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island affairs would not consider to take on board a person who is not from Australia, like me. Yet, I don’t know how, but I made it! I guess if you have a crazy but sincere and passionate interest in making the world a better place, you will achieve what you want.

From the first moment I received the emails that confirmed my successful interview and placement, I was very excited. I had given this opportunity to be part of something big, and give my genuine contribution to the process of improving the living conditions of Aboriginal people. I was selected at VACCHO, the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, based in Collingwood, not far from Melbourne’s CBD.

 My first days at VACCHO were just amazing. I felt home away from home, everyone was eager to know me and they all wanted to know my story, being impressed for my caring of the cause. All the staff members, from the receptionists to the CEO, welcomed me in their beautiful Collingwood home, which is full of artworks and cultural pieces, and has a beautiful mural outside (do not forget to have a picture taken at the front before you leave!).

I started working on a project that consisted in collating VACCHO’s policy position, so that the organization could refer to a single document when advocating and writing reports. The document itself seemed easy to put together: a brief policy position, a synopsis with evidence to support the position, and accurate referencing. Yet, it was a solid job and harder to complete than expected! My supervisor Nicky helped me and guided me through the 4 weeks, indicating people amongst the staff that I could talk to regarding specific topics to write the policy positions. Therefore, I had to go and talk to various staff within the organization. At the beginning, I felt outside of my comfort zone, as I did not want to take time from people’s work. However, all the people I spoke to were extremely friendly and helped me a lot with their inputs in the work.

In addition to this project, Nicky made sure I had some other little things to work on, in order to break up my work. I helped her with a submission for the Victorian Government, as well as with some mode admin work such as finding emails and contacts of VACCHO’s primary stakeholders’ CEOs. I must admit, that helped a lot in moments where I was stuck with my work.

 One of the best things of working at VACCHO was being able to take part to many different events, meeting and workshops. Despite being “only an intern”, the directors of my unit, Louise and then Eddie, always made sure I would participate to whatever was happening outside the office. I was invited to go along to many events, such as the CTG refresh, the parliamentary voting for the Treaty, VACCHO day (amongst others). Also, my team made sure I participated to a Cultural Safety training. There I had the chance to understand many things better, and now I feel that the cultural respect that I have learnt will always accompany me, in whichever job I will do in the future.

I loved the relaxed environment of VACCHO, and the fact that everyone is always laughing and sharing funny stories or life adventures. I admired this type of setting in an organization, because the staff is able to produce amazing outputs and pieces of work, and I think this is the result of such a friendly and energetic way of working. Something I will never forget about VACCHO are the “thank you” I received from everyone working there. Some of the youngest staff, including an Aurora alumnus, Andrew, invited me to their Friday drinks after work on my last day, and there I got gifted a beautiful pin made by Mikaela, who runs Koorie Prints. Throughout the placement, up until my last minutes, I felt special, I felt like I belonged, and most importantly, I felt like I was actually able to help them in their amazing work. Unfortunately, I could not keep working with them as my Australian visa did not allow me to receive monetary compensations, but I have been guaranteed that VACCHO’s doors will be always open for me.

 I will always be thankful to the Aurora Project for connecting me with VACCHO and for giving me this opportunity. This is something I will never forget.