We caught up with Isabel Osuna-Gatty, the Venezuelan-Australian, who was recently awarded with the Excellence in Language, Literacy and Numeracy Practice Award by the Australian Government.
An amazing lady with a strong commitment to improving the lives of those with reading and writing difficulties, Isabel shared her views about perseverance, commitment, and dedication which, in our book, should motivate anyone to achieve great things. Hear her comments about overcoming adversity in her younger years in order to have achieved all that she has till this day:
What did you learn in your younger years, that you were able to apply in Australia?
I lived in Venezuela until I was 16 years old, I lived in a rural town, surrounded by animals and forests. I was always very interested in the natural world, so I read everything that fell into my hands. I did my last year of high school and university in the United States. I was very lucky to have studied a variety of subjects at university and in other technical colleges which I was able to apply in Australia. My father was an immigrant from Spain, so I knew that hard work is the answer to success. When I arrived in Australia, I continued to read everything that I could, ask many questions and interviewed a lot of people. I never stopped learning.
Did you have any life-changing experiences that put you on the path that led you to what you’re doing today?
I was born with a facial deformity, I had life changing surgery when I was 15. The lack of friends led me to read many books on many topics from science to history. Due to my skull deformation, I lost sight in my right eye, after many surgeries, I have about 75% of vision. So, time is of the essence, so many things to do, so little time!
What led you to receive the Excellence in Language, Literacy and Numeracy Practice Award?
It is the culmination of 15 years of work, raising awareness, establishing programs and creating resources to assist Australians improve their reading and writing skills. 47% of the Australian population has difficulties with reading skills, 53% does not have the numeracy skills needed to interpret a timetable nor follow a cooking recipe.
What led you to the Educator role? What were you doing before you came to Australia?
I have been an educator all my life, I started when I was in primary school, when I opened an after-hours school for children with Down syndrome who were not allowed to attend school back then. I used to teach English as a Second Language to my high school classmates and tutor disadvantaged students living in the poor areas of Caracas.
After my universities studies, I taught English to my workmates in Caracas and then I opened a school in a rural community outside Caracas. I trained English teachers and taught English to CEOs and other executives working in multinational companies. I also worked as Head of the English Department in a private school and taught Spanish Literacy and English as a Second Language at a university in Venezuela. Education is my life.
Were there any challenges that you faced when you arrived in Australia and how did you turn those challenges into something positive?
Finding work, of course. I learnt how to find the right people who could give you the right answers. I could use my rejection letters as wall paper for my house 3 times over, but I persisted and kept on applying. I never took no for an answer, [never] changed who I was and where I came from. I stayed true to myself and never gave up!
Do you have any advice for other Latin American’s coming to Australia or recently arrived in Australia and entering the workforce?
Do your homework, get ready for change, ask lots of questions! Persistence and resilience are the key to success.
What’s next for Isabel?
As we prepare this article for you all, Isabel is busy preparing for her next challenge – coaching a strong team of Aboriginal educators, who can follow in her footsteps and educate others in much the same way Isabel has.
Truly an inspiration!