With a passion for people and their stories, Yawuru woman and TAFE Queensland student Mena Waller is dedicated to community development in remote and regional areas.

Waller was born and raised in Rockhampton, Queensland where she studied and worked before relocating to Groote Eylandt in the Northern Territory.

“I did a Bachelor of Business and Professional Communication at university and part of the reason I wanted to do that was I love hearing people’s stories and sharing in that. That was a big focus for me out of school,” Waller said.

“Since I’ve finished university, I’ve worked in the health space. I’ve really enjoyed working with people and trying to be a bit more critical on how we do things and making sure it fits the people we are trying to support.”

Moving into the community development space, Waller enrolled in a Diploma of Community Development with TAFE Queensland. She received the TAFE Queensland Scholarship to support her studies.

Waller now works in Groote Eylandt as a Regional Manager for Save the Children, a global organisation dedicated to supporting children in accessing education and health.

“Save the Children do a lot of different work across the world, but in Australia a lot of our focus is on programs. We work a lot in more remote communities across the northern part of Australia,” said Waller.

“The program we have here is a play-to-learn program which is focused on supporting children and families to access a service that isn’t usually what mainstream [services] would provide.

“We go outreach to different communities and outstations, it is a playground environment but it encourages families and children to come together to learn in a different way.”

“Particularly here we know that there [are] still cultural practices as part of everyday life, so it is about creating an educational space where we can share and learn from one another.”

Entering an unfamiliar community, Waller has been warmly welcomed.

“This isn’t the community that I was brought up in, so for me a lot was about learning from people … relationships are so important here—as they are anywhere,” she said.

“Really having reciprocal relationships is important, if I want to find out about something or if I want to learn about what has been done in the past, I really need to be open to hearing, sharing and learning from someone.

“Every person that lives here has such strong spirituality and cultural connection to this area, every person has as much value in their voice as anyone else.

“It is really about listening, learning and being responsive to what local people want for their families and their community. It is a long journey but if you want to have any success in the community development space, you have to be led by local people and really let them take ownership.”

Finding her stride and her place, Waller has found something very special in her work.

“To be able to make something or provide something to people and to be able to do that in a way that fits well with them and supports them and makes them feel valued and feel like they belong to something is so powerful,” she said.

“That sense of a belonging to a community that didn’t know me two years ago, that is something I’ll hold dearly for the rest of my life and I’ll think such great things about this place.”

By Rachael Knowles