ANNUAL school speech days and graduation ceremonies are well under way around the region.
For many schools this is a time to celebrate the achievements of students past and present.
This year’s speech day at Armidale’s New England Girls’ School will boast a special guest, when former studentTara Winkler returns to her old stomping ground.
Tara, now 27, rescued 14 orphans from a corrupt institution in Asia and set up the Cambodian Children’s Trust to give them new hope.
Next month, the former NSW Young Australian of the Year who has been featured on ABCTV’s Australian Story, will share her inspiring story with students at her old school.
With model good looks and plenty of drive, Ms Winkler worked hard to break into the film industry after completing her HSC at New England Girls’ School in 2003.
The shallowness of the job left her disillusioned – but a three week trip to Asia would changed her life forever.
While volunteering at a landmine museum, she met children at an orphanage in Battambang and set about raising funds for it when she got back to Australia. Returning to Cambodia to see how the funds were being administered, she was shocked by the corruption of the orphanage operators and the physical, sexual and emotional abuse being suffered by many of the children.
With a local man, she got permission from authorities to establish a new hope for the legitimate orphans.
“In August 2007 we turned up, unannounced, with a bus and two authorities from the department of social affairs and took 14 kids to their new, safe home. I had all of a sudden become entirely responsible for 14 people’s lives,” she said.
Since that time, the trust has grown and in addition to the orphanage, operates a number of projects to break the cycle of poverty in the Battambang region.”
In 2010 Miss Winkler was named NSW Young Australian of the Year.
NEGS principal Ian Downs said the school was delighted to welcome Tara to be the special guest at the annual speech day, Wednesday, December 5.
“Given the priority the federal government has assigned to Asia, it is both appropriate and timely that our special guest should be an ‘old girl’ who is already making an impact in a specific country of Asia,” Mr Downs said.
“Tara is an outstanding young achiever, a wonderful ‘old girl’ and a tribute to the students that graduate from NEGS, and we are honoured to have her visit.”