Lieona Cocker came to Shepparton from Tonga in 1996. After discovering multicultural education at GOTAFE, Lieona went on to face her challenges in an abusive marriage and became a Multicultural Liason Officer at GOTAFE.
I came to Australia in January 1996 from Tonga. My husband and I decided to come to Australia to start a new life after 11 years of a miserable marriage. When we arrived in Australia, the children and I stayed in Sydney for 3 months while my husband came to Shepparton looking for accommodation. We eventually joined him in March 1996.
We came to Shepparton because my husband used to pick fruit here while he attended Melbourne University in 1976. For me, moving to Shepparton was the beginning of the loneliest time in my whole life.
For the first six months there was never a day that I did not wake up thinking 'Coming to Australia was the biggest mistake I've ever made in my whole life'.
One day, my husband went to work, the kids left to go to school and there was only the baby and I at home. I felt so sick that I threw up everywhere. The ambulance was called and I was taken to the hospital and found out that I was pregnant.
I cried the whole week, and wished that I could speak better English so I could at least talk to my neighbours, but it was not as easy as you think.
One day I went to check my mailbox, and found a pamphlet that said 'English as a second language' and 'Multicultural'. It also had the phone number and address of the TAFE College. I thought 'I will take my baby for a walk around Shepparton and look for TAFE'. We found it and when I opened my mouth to speak I could only say about 2 words in English!! I was referred to the Multicultural Education Centre where the manager, Vicki Mitsos, welcomed me. She sat down with me for almost 2 hours. She told me about my entitlements in order to start an English class the next day.
As soon as I told her that I arrived in that year she called one of her workers to come to the room where she took my details, then booked my baby into a child care centre and told me that I could start the following Monday.
After all these talks, we left TAFE to go home. On our way home I remember crying and praying to God and thanking him for this wonderful opportunity.
In my mind, I had a big dream about being able to speak better English soon then to enrol in other courses and to start a better life somewhat after that.
As I began my English classes in July 1996, it was the beginning of another nightmare as my husband was not happy for me to continue at TAFE. I couldn't understand why he acted so weird, but I persevered for another two and a half years. In November of 1998, I decided to end my marriage. I was 8½ months pregnant with another child, and I contacted the domestic violence number. I was assisted to leave with just three of my children, as one was still at school.
I moved to Wangaratta and it was like moving to the middle of nowhere. I persevered for 3 months, but my son's behaviour became a nightmare (the kids went through difficult times at school) so I came back to Shepparton. I returned to TAFE, which became my second home.
In 1999, Vicki encouraged me to form a Tongan community group. I became one of the representatives of our little community at the Ethnic Council of Shepparton. I tried to do a few courses including Certificate 4 in Hospitality "Food and Beverages (Supervision)" and Diploma of Welfare Studies. My circumstances did not allow me to finish them as the kids were always sick, and my son and daughter attempted suicide on two occasions. I tried not to miss classes but I missed too many to continue.
Anyhow, for five and a half years I managed to give back to the community what they have given me, through volunteer work with the Shepparton Youth Performing Arts Group for Multicultural Youth. I had no formal qualifications to get a paid job, but I could take my kids with me while I was involved with the young people in the community. In turn, my kids could benefit from what I was doing. I am still heavily involved.
Finally, this year Vicki Mitsos recognised a few of my talents and asked me to work for her at the Multicultural Education Centre at TAFE as a Multicultural Liaison Officer. I am back at the place where I first started to learn.
Rather than the worst mistake of my life, I now realise coming to Shepparton has given me a new life.
I believe I had to come to Shepparton to face my challenges, to go back to school, Mum and Dad had problems paying school fees and school was always too hard for me, I hated challenges. I also had to escape my abusive marriage and learn to love my kids more and see them as the most precious little people in my life.
Above all, I want to improve my life. I never stop learning. It is really a privilege to be in Australia and I am grateful as a community member of the Goulburn Valley region.
Source: Suitcase Full of Dreams (Reproduced with permission)