Passion is not enough to make a difference. One needs the skills and competencies to act on and live your passion. This is the reason why I enthusiastically pursued a meaningful year and half at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) through the Australia Awards Scholarship.

I realised at an early age that I want to be a teacher. The financial reward is not that great but the huge smiles you see from your learners and the heartwarming notes of gratitude from their parents are more than enough to make up for the meager salary of a teacher during my time. They affirm that I can make a difference in their lives.

My introduction to the field of inclusive education. One late afternoon of the busy enrolment season, an exhausted looking mother approached me and asked "Teacher, will you accept my child? She relayed with utmost frustration that she had inquired to five schools already, but all turned her down as her child has autism. Without hesitation I answered, "No problem Mommy, everyone is welcome here!" I have to admit that I felt overwhelmed and sad because I didn't know where to start in supporting her child. We were not taught during my undergraduate studies how to support learners with disability. Suddenly, it dawned on me that being passionate was not enough.

I brought the problem to one of the school founders, Ms. Lilibeth Aristorenas, who is also my professional/personal life mentor. We both realised the gap in education that needs to be addressed – the capacity-building of teachers in inclusive teaching strategies. Such led to the establishment of The Teacher's Gallery (TTG), a social enterprise whose mission is to empower educators in building inclusive communities. TTG is one of the pioneering organisations in the Philippines that is advocating to make inclusive education a reality through a multi-stakeholder collaboration to support the learning ecosystem of a child with disability – teacher, school leadership, family, community, therapist, developmental pediatrician, local government unit and the Department of Education (DepEd).

TTG spearheaded a 2-part International Summit on Inclusive Education which started a conversation on inclusive education and served as an open-space for the different stakeholders to discuss and create action plans on how to make inclusion a reality for all children. Such summits were organized in close collaboration with various international and local organizations such as UNICEF, Australian Embassy through its Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), disabled people associations, legislators and government agencies such as the DepEd and the National Council on Disability Affairs among others.

All our resource speakers then were from different parts of the globe. This is the reason why I applied for an Australia Awards Scholarship, because the program I wanted was not available in our home country. I am grateful for the Master of Education in Inclusive Education Program at QUT for empowering me to continue advocating for inclusive education and equipping me with the tools needed to scale our impact.

Australia offers world-class institutions, incredible nature, vibrant cities and such a diverse welcoming community. Our university provides students with excellent learning facilities and high-quality teaching and learning methodologies. As an international scholar, I thought studying abroad would be so lonely. I am forever grateful for the support of QUT's International Student Services (ISS) for the proactive and timely support services for what was deemed as the most challenging and unusual academic year – from arranging our accommodations, to preparing us for the academic style of the university, and checking in with us regularly, keeping us sane during the pandemic.

If I were to describe my Australia Awards Journey in four words, it would be – chance of a lifetime! Having the luxury of uninterrupted time to focus on studies and being generously supported financially was key in productively pursuing our organisation's inclusive education advocacy. I can't over emphasize how constant communication with my mentor was helpful in this journey too. We often communicate on how I can maximise my stay by choosing the right electives and building on my Return Entry Action Plan (REAP).

The whole experience has been life-changing for me. The friendships formed with friends from different parts of the globe especially within the Indo-pacific region will be cherished for a lifetime. Together, sharing best practices and cultural exchange experiences were all so memorable. I am also equally grateful to organizations (QUT International Projects Unit and Australia Volunteers Program) whom I met here in Australia who willingly offered support to our Inclusive Education Mentorship Program, my REAP back home.

Australia Awards offers exceptional opportunities for personal and professional growth. Being empowered with an Australia Awards Scholarship, I can now envision more and act on it because of the program's impact on me, my co-scholars, and the society.

With only a few months shy from returning home, I am confronted with mixed emotions - excited to come home and share with my family and friends this memorable chapter of my life but at the same time sad that I have to leave my "home" during the pandemic times and QUT, the "second family" who welcomed me and provided an exceptional learning and cultural experience. I look forward to collaborating and contributing to the Australia Awards Philippines community in whichever way I can.

To all who made this memorable chapter of my life possible, I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.


Imari Leen Roble, more known as "Teacher Mai" is a professional teacher and an advocate of Inclusive Education. T. Mai is currently the Executive Director and a Co-Founder of The Teacher's Gallery, a social enterprise which aims to empower educators in building inclusive communities. She discovered her passion to make a difference at a child's life at an early age. As such, she pursued a teaching profession and continues to work with children. She is a recipient of the Australia Awards Scholarship Program and is currently pursuing her post graduate studies taking up Master of Education in Inclusive Education at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia.