The graduates of the North East’s first five-day leadership program for women with disabilities have confirmed just how powerful confidence can be.
Thirteen women from across the region officially completed NE Victorian Enabling Women training on Friday, run by Women’s Health Goulburn North East and Women with Disabilities Victoria.
Wangaratta’s Pauline Vonarx was left unable to use her left arm in 2009 after suffering from a stroke while working as a nurse in London.
Ms Vonarx said meeting other women had provided comfort after feeling for many years that people didn’t understand what she was going through.
“I had to change my whole way of living to come home to live with my family,” she said.
“I still have moments where I get teary at night and remember it.
“It puts you at rock bottom and you have to get yourself out of that.
“This made me realise there are things out there I can access to be more independent and do the things I used to do before my stroke.
“It taught me about my rights and that we have advocates that can support us.”
The program was created in light of the fact that one in five Victorian women has a disability, with numbers high in rural and regional areas.
Due to this, there are high levels of homelessness for disabled women and they are twice as likely to experience violence throughout their lives.
Fellow graduate Nella Messina said she believed stigma towards people with disabilities was a major issue.
“There’s a lot of people out there, women especially, who often cop discrimination,” she said.
“In the program, we’ve learnt a lot about discrimination, advocacy and that we all have rights whether we have a disability or not.
“I’ve seen a lot of people grow in the group and I think we’ve learnt not to give up on ourselves.”
Ms Messina said she had gained the confidence and strategies from the program to start a craft group.
“After all the turmoil and things that have happened … I wasn’t coping,” she said.
“This has really helped with my self-esteem.
“I’m looking to find a venue for craft in Wangratta or Wodonga, for people regardless of their abilities.
“I want to be a positive role model to other women that are struggling.”
WHGNE health promotion worker Bernadette Fraser said women from all types of backgrounds had come through the program.
“Key to its success is support and mentoring to enable women of all abilities to develop confidence, knowledge, skills and networks,” she said.
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