Rural and Regional education

The power within community

Nicole Wright / 08 June 2021

Imagine this. For years, all you can see is dirt and dust. Not a drop of water in sight, animals dying, jobs lost, not sure how you will pay the bills. Then, ravaging bushfires rip through your town, leaving a wake of smoke, charcoal and ruins. Just as the clean-up starts, the world goes into lockdown. An unthinkable pandemic that puts everything on hold, not a person in sight. But, bad things happen in threes, right? No.

Just as doors start to open and you pick up where you left off, cleaning up after the devastation of fire and praying for rain, the rain comes. And boy, does it come. Flooding that happens once in 100 years, destroying homes and communities.

This is not the storyline to a dystopian outback drama, but reality for many of our Country Education Foundation (CEF) rural and regional communities.

Now imagine being a young person in one of these communities, where the financial, emotional and social obstacles seem too great for you to overcome and you’re unclear what your future will be, post-school.

At CEF we believe in equal access to education irrespective of background, circumstances or location. And we know that local communities are best positioned to work with their young people. Through our network of 44 regional, volunteer-run local foundations, we’re helping young people in rural and regional Australia access post school education, training and jobs through grants, scholarships, support services and resources.

A national not-for-profit organisation, our CEF model is centred on the importance of local knowledge in providing support to students who need it most and where it can have the most impact. Trusting local communities who are closest to their young people, is what makes our model work.

Passionate volunteers establish and run our local foundations, fundraising, awarding grants and providing social support to students at the community level. They are bound by a common goal – to see regional and rural youth succeed.

They provide grants for textbooks and laptops for students, purchase tools and equipment for apprentices and help with living away from home expenses. But students tell us the support and mentoring CEF provides is just as valuable. It’s about knowing that their community is backing them and believes in their aspirations.

“Not only has this CEF grant helped me to buy a much-needed new computer, but it has also been a source of great comfort and support. It has given me peace of mind in a new place with new people. Knowing there is a group of people and a massive community backing me up along the way and through the hard times is so reassuring.” Mikayla McGuirk-Scolaro, Temora grant recipient, 2019

Independent research shows that for every dollar invested in our work, a return of $4.99 is created in social value – changing the lives of young Australians, their families and their communities.

But it only works because the decisions are made by those closest to the problem. In fact, the founders of CEF so strongly believe in our regional people and the importance of their ‘on the ground’ knowledge, that when CEF national was established in 2003, it was not created as a governing body. Head office provides administrative support and sources additional national funding, but the decision-making happens locally.

The Origin Energy Foundation has been a long-term funding partner of CEF, encouraged by our model of distributed power in providing outcomes for young people. Without the support of funders like them, the future may have been very different for young people like Erin, Michael or Ash.

“CEF embodies all that is good about people in rural and regional Australia: adaptability and resilience, focusing on the solution, not just dwelling on the probem,” says Sean Barrett, Head of the Origin Energy Foundation. “Education and learning is the solution and it pays off not just for the individuals being supported. So many of the CEF young people I have spoken with are determined to pay back the support given by their community by staying in or going back after studies to set up as mechanics, school teachers, farmers and doctors, reinvigorating their communities. What a great model,” he adds.

Recipients of CEF’s support are amongst our biggest supporters. They know the difference CEF can make and are willing to give back in a number of ways. They are now donors, local foundation volunteers and ‘Aspirational Influencers’. As part of this program, past and present CEF recipients head back to their local communities to host information sessions, barbeques and events; they provide inspirational videos, stories and advice to be shared; and they provide mentoring and support, all with the goal of raising aspirations and helping the next generation of regional youth chase, and achieve, their education dreams.

When the chips are down, our local foundations will support each other, too. In the wake of the 2020 Summer bushfires, CEF Walgett and Harden District Education Foundation (HDEF) donated some of their funds to the Braidwood and District and CEF Kangaroo Island foundations. It is times like this that our belief in the power of local communities is validated.

Across our CEF network we have provided $12.6 million in funding and helped almost 7,000 young Australian become nurses, teachers, plumbers, accountants, pilots, builders, scientists, hairdressers and engineers.

  • 93% of students saying the support of their local CEF is important to them
  • 92% of students or alumni having completed or are on track to complete their studies
  • 94% of alumni having found employment in their chosen field

Read more about our performance in our latest Annual Review.

Imagine this. The dust is finally settling, and the grass begins to turn green and the animals are feeding again. You can go into town and visit the local shop without the smell of charred timber and give a friendly handshake without fear. The road is repaired, and the waters have subsided. Good things come to those who wait, right? No.

Good things come to those who work, remain strong and believe in and help those around them. During the good and the bad, our volunteers support their youth, driven by shared experiences only they can understand and a resilience that has become part of the fabric of regional and rural communities, creating impact that no one else can.

It is our local foundations who change lives. And families. And communities.

CEF receives no government funding. Our national office and local foundations rely on the generosity of people just like you. Help ensure the continued success of our work and help regional students access post-school education by donating to CEF today.


Photo courtesy of Alys Marshall

Nicole Wright looks after fundraising and engagement for the Country Education Foundation. 

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