Changemakers - Tessa Henwood-Mitchell
20 August 2012 at 10:00 am
Tessa Henwood-Mitchell, the 24-year-old Founder and Director of Tia International Aid, is profiled in Changemakers – a regular column which examines inspiring people and their careers in the Not for Profit sector.
Tessa founded TIA in 2009 after volunteering for four months in Bolivia with children in a children's home and feeling a strong sense of frustration that these kids would not receive the opportunities she had had. Almost four years on she has a volunteer team of almost 30 people across Adelaide and Bolivia, as well as finishing her double degree in Social Work and International Relations, volunteering with the YWCA on their young women's leadership program, and working two part time jobs.
Tia International Aid is a youth-led Not for Profit organisation working to create opportunity and enable change in the lives of underprivileged children and youth in Bolivia. They do this by working directly with locals to develop solutions to issues facing these children and young people, creating projects in partnership with various stakeholders, but mainly a collaborative.
What are you currently working on in the organisation?
Our latest project that I’m going over to Bolivia this month to work on is a transition program for the young people who have grown up in state care. These young people turn 18 and are then considered adults and expected to enter the world and live independently without any preparation, skills, or support. Unfortunately this will often end with these young people facing homelessness, unemployment, substance abuse, young parenthood, and crime.
At Tia International Aid to remedy this we are creating a two-tiered program. For the first part we are developing a series of workshops that we will package and offer to various orphanages and children’s homes to run with young people in their final year in state care focused on work skills, career guidance, self esteem building, preventative health, and educating them on their rights and responsibilities as young adults.
The second part of this project is a transition centre where these young people can come after they leave state care, where they will have access to skill building workshops, financial planning, temporary accommodation, mentoring, scholarships and tutoring, career guidance, job seeking, community service, and we will develop an income generating arm of this centre that will provide job opportunities and work skills to the young people, and also generate income to sustain the centre.
This project will be the first of its kind in the area and we are very excited about finding ways to assist these young people to reach their full potential.
What drew you to the Not for Profit sector?
When I was finishing high school I was coming to a realisation of how fortunate my life had been, and how lucky I was to have had the upbringing I’d had – living in a middle class family with supportive parents, a good education, a comfortable house, enough food, good health care, and the opportunity to do whatever I set my mind to. On day it just occurred to me that there were millions of children and young people in the world that weren’t this fortunate. I decided to spend my gap year volunteering in Africa, and this experience changed me as a person. I learnt the value of not taking anything for granted and appreciating the small things. I learnt that people who we perceive as ‘poor’ are actually some of the richest people in the world in more important ways than material or financial. This was the first time I really started considering working in the non profit sector. I wanted to be around these people and I wanted to find a way to make my life be of benefit to them.
What do you like best about working in your current organisation?
There’s so many amazing things that I love about working with TIA. But one of the things I love the most is the people. We have an incredible team of volunteers in Adelaide and in Bolivia who are so passionate about the work they do. I get to spend every day working with a group of people who inspire me and challenge me and are constantly coming up with fresh ideas and perspectives that make the time I spend with them exciting and motivational. I feel very grateful to be surrounded by such an incredible group of people.
“It’s only a mistake if you do it again; otherwise it’s a learning opportunity.”
“To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
My greatest challenge is …
Finding a work/life balance. For me that has always been a challenge; to sustain myself so that I can give more to my work. I try to fit so many different things into my days that sometimes I forget to look after myself. When working in the Not for Profit sector I think it’s common to get totally caught up in the work you are doing and let it consume you. Now combine that with studying full time and also working as a waitress and a nanny to financially support yourself and you can maybe see how I find that balance so hard. But I also love to be busy and love to have variety in my life, so my challenge is to make time for doing things for myself amongst the business.
What inspires you? Who inspires you?
The children and young people I work with inspire me every day. Their resilience and strength even in tough circumstances amazes me, and they teach me more than I could possibly teach them and I feel so privileged to have the opportunity to know these children and play a part in their lives.