With an African heritage and Australian upbringing, Tabotu Teklemariam began to connect to her racial identity only after she started a VU degree focused on Australia’s Indigenous history and culture.
Now she celebrates it and is supporting other African-Australians at VU and beyond.
The 22-year-old has called Flemington’s African-dominated high-rises home since she was a child.
But her mother was determined that her children integrate into Australian culture and worked hard to send Tabotu and her two siblings to private schools.
“I spent my days surrounded by people who didn’t mirror my own appearance and culture, and was confronted by a media that didn’t reflect black existence in a beautiful way,” she said.
In 2012, after enrolling in VU’s Bachelor of Arts (Kyinandoo) – the only degree in Victoria focusing on Indigenous culture and values – Tabotu ignited a passion for her African heritage.
“I became aware of global Indigenous issues and the forces of colonialisation that woke me up to my own situation.”
Last year, Tabotu was selected for an eight-week African leadership program where she found herself among other like-minded, ambitious people of African descent.
She co-founded a non-profit organisation, Afro-Care, to combat the delicate and often taboo issues surrounding mental health in Melbourne’s African communities.
“Afro-Care is a massive accomplishment for my community and for me because it’s breaking another barrier,” she says. “I have a big vision for the positive impact and social change it can create.”
Tabotu is also president of VU’s African Society Club, “a safe and comfortable space” where social activities, workshops, and mentoring ensure the University’s African students reach their full academic and social potential. She emphasises that non-African students are also welcome to attend events.
To that end, Tabotu plans to hold joint activities with VU’s community development and youth work students this year while she embarks on another personal challenge: a VU master degree in counselling.
UPCOMING CONVERSATION SERIES
The African Students Association will be presenting a series of free public discussions during April at MetroWest in Footscray. The discussions will focus on mental health and well being, African identity and contemporary Africa.