Opening the Doors Foundation was launched on 4 August 2001 as the only Aboriginal-governed organisation supporting Victorian Aboriginal students from Prep to Year 12. Two decades on, the Foundation is still critically important in ensuring that the Victorian Aboriginal community has determination over its children’s education.

In 2001, the OTDF provided support for 32 students. Twenty years on, the Foundation is now helping more than 800 students per annum, ensuring the doors to non-Government schools are open to all Aboriginal families in Victoria.

Over its 20 years, the Foundation has provided guidance and support to more than 3,000 students and their families in their education journey, with over 10,000 grants totaling more than $6 million.

Since the establishment of OTDF, enrolments of Aboriginal students in non-Government schools across Victoria have jumped to more than 1900 this year.

Founders Vicki Clark, Melissa Brickell, Carol Messer and John Arthur attribute that major growth to one simple thing: Aboriginal families having options and choices available to them when making decisions about their children’s education.

‘Historically, I know from personal experience, that non-Government schools haven’t been the most tangible option for Aboriginal families to send their kids to,’ Ms Clark said.

‘OTDF has made a difference to that by upskilling teachers to be culturally aware of Aboriginal issues, and thereby equipping them to meet the cultural needs of these kids,’ she said.

‘In turn, this has built the trust of Aboriginal families that their children are safe in non-Government schools and has seen many more families make that choice.’

Ms Messer said feedback from families with children supported by OTDF has been “overwhelmingly positive”.

‘When you get an email from a parent saying, “my child opened assembly this morning in their native language”, or “my child helped to raise the Aboriginal flag at school today”, that’s the best feeling,’ she said.

‘You can see as the children begin to grow in number, that they are changing the culture of their schools, growing in confidence and becoming emerging community leaders.’

John Arthur said the OTDF philosophy reflected the fundamental belief in education as a key foundation for the future of reconciliation, and equality in life for all First Nations People.

‘Receiving an education in an environment that supports and understands the cultural background of our First Nations People is critical,’ he said. ‘OTDF numbers have grown from 32 students to over 800, and we will continue to work together to ensure we reach more and more Aboriginal families.’

OTDF journey
Opening the Doors Foundation celebrates 20 years of changing lives Image: Opening the Doors Foundation

Opening the Doors Foundation
20th Anniversary Online Celebration
9.30am, Wednesday 4 August

The Foundation is inviting the wider community to join the celebration of its 20th birthday online. It will be an opportunity to hear the stories, see the outcomes and celebrate the accomplishments of participants.