As a young Bardi Kija man in Kimberly, a remote corner of Western Australia, Izayah Davis remembers always having the instinctive drive to help his community.
"It must have been well before my pre-teen years that I had etched my life goal - to give back to my mob. However, I did not really understand how to get into that kind of position - not until my mother went to university and showed me that this was the path I needed to take," he shares candidly.
Izayah is currently studying a Bachelor of Science at The Australian National University (ANU) and is a recipient of the prestigious Kambri Scholarship.
Last year, ANU launched the scholarship aiming to unlock educational and personal opportunities for Indigenous students. It is a multifaceted package, whose recipients gain financial, academic and pastoral support from the University's Tjabal Indigenous Higher Education Centre.
"I felt really proud when I first learnt that I was going to be a Kambri Scholar. There are not a lot of opportunities that support not only your studies but also your passion," Izayah says.
Having commenced his degree during COVID-19, the Bardi Kija man admits feeling humbled by the wide range of assistance he received from ANU.
"In particular, the University's Tjabal Centre, which is now like an extended family for me, made my transition to ANU much easier than it would have been on my own. The Tjabal Centre is a meeting place and support base. During the pandemic, it immensely helped me to keep my mental health and wellbeing in check. At ANU, I have found a home away from home," he shares.
Andrew Coulter, the Scholarship Program Manager, believes the multifaceted nature of the award will attract students to come to ANU from all over Australia and will assist them on multiple fronts.
"The Kambri Scholarship will not only draw students from across the country, but will allow them to concentrate on their studies without having to worry about the financial pressures of living away from home. It will also give recipients a network of students with similar situations that they can connect with and a safe space in the Tjabal Centre. Along the way, we hope to give them some additional skills and opportunities to complement their studies, which in turn will help them become the leaders of tomorrow," Andrew shares.
As his first year of university draws to a close, Izayah has now realised that he wants to specialise in cellular and molecular biology. He is particularly attracted to the field of epigenetics - the study of how one's behaviours and environment can cause changes to their genes.
"I would love to do more study into diabetes and genetics, and add to the growing bank of research into how these factors have an impact on Indigenous people," he says.
In addition to academics, Izayah points out that campus life kept him engaged and even bolstered his confidence: "Ursula Hall is a close-knit community that makes sure I never feel alone. Living on campus means that I get to experience ANU 24/7, so adapting to university has been quick. Access to a range of sports, events and facilities means there has never been a dull moment. I guess you could say that ANU has shaped me into becoming more of a 'seeking-out' kind of person, rather than someone who waits for things to happen."
Over the past year, Izayah has noticed that his journey at ANU has better informed his long-term goal to help his mob.
"From my experience, I've known and noticed that more resourcing should be put towards culturally responsive medical training programs that assist Indigenous people. For instance, remote communities need better access to specialised medical facilities, as leaving Country for treatments can add to the trauma patients already face because of the illness. Many of our mob don't feel comfortable reaching out to non-Aboriginal medical services. Thus, treatment on Country is vital to their overall health and culture. I've gradually come to realise that not only do we need more doctors who are of Indigenous backgrounds, but also a stronger commitment from the government towards these communities," Izayah explains.
Discussing how Indigenous high-school students could best access a university education, Anne Martin, Director of the Tjabal Centre, whose motto is to "keep students in the field of play," strongly advocates being proactive and reaching out as the best avenue to embark on a life-altering academic voyage.
"If you are not sure where to start in finding out about university studies, contact the team at the Tjabal centre and they will assist you on this part of the journey. Take a look at all scholarships on offer and, in particular, the Kambri Scholarship that provides up to five years of unconditional support for students of Indigenous backgrounds commencing their undergraduate studies," advises Anne, fondly known as "Aunty Anne" around the campus and beyond, and who looks forward to seeing new faces at the Tjabal Centre soon.
Applications for the Kambri Scholarship are now open until Monday 7 June 2021. Click here for more details.