This year marks the 21st anniversary of the University of Newcastle’s intake of AusAID Australian Development Scholarship (ADS) recipients. Beginning in 1993 with just one ADS scholar, in 2013 the University will host 60 ADS scholarship recipients from developing countries.
2012 recipient, Mark Sakarao, dreamed of Newcastle as a boy growing up in sleepy Wabag, capital of the Enga province in rural Papua New Guinea.
The local community school employed a number of Australian teachers. Mark desperately wanted to go but was too young.
“The teachers measured me with a ruler and told me I was too small for school. They told me to go back home and I cried!” he says.
A year later when Mark was allowed to start kindergarten his love affair with Newcastle really started. Every Friday he visited a house where they had a television and watched the Newcastle Knights play.
“I started to say, ‘One day, I will go there.'”
After a 10-year journey from high school to tertiary qualifications in primary teaching and a burgeoning career teaching in local schools, Mark realised his dream with the help of an AusAID Australian Development Scholarship.
“I met a social worker from Queensland through my work who gave me the scholarship application forms two days before they were due.
“I thought: I’m young, energetic, and want to study more, what an opportunity,” he says.
After making it through the initial application process, Mark was thrilled to discover his name on a list of scholarship recipients in the local newspaper.
“I could choose where I wanted to go and wondered if there was a university in Newcastle. When I found out there was my mind was made up.
“I was so thankful the door to the place I had dreamed of was open,” he said.
Mark arrived in Newcastle at the beginning of 2012. It was all very new to him, but, he says, “it was so organised and there was a lot of support.”
Now with a Master in Special Education from the University of Newcastle under his belt, Mark is excited about the future.
“I’ve been part of an international institution, one of the top in the world. It makes me very proud and puts me on another level,” he said. “I can’t wait to share my experience at home. I have a lot to give back through the skills I gained in Newcastle.”
As well as being a graduate, Mark is also a new father. His son was born on November 8 and, in tribute to Mark’s experience, the little boy’s name is Ncastro, derived from Newcastle.
“A name should have a meaning and Ncastro’s will keep me in touch with my memories. I will tell my son the story of how I was in Newcastle when he was born and what an incredible time I had there,” Mark said.
The ADS scholarships are long term development awards administered by AusAID. They aim to contribute to the long term development needs of Australia’s partner countries in line with bilateral and regional agreements.