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2020 Support and Advocacy Awards

From one student’s quest to create connected virtual communities to another’s advocacy to bring support to all students, the winners in our new Support and Advocacy awards category worked tirelessly to help their peers through the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Winner: Sisly Li (Xi Li) from China

Studying: Master of Social Work at Flinders University

When studies moved online due to the COVID-19 lockdown, Sisly knew it would be hard, particularly for international students. To help her fellow social work students, she worked with her colleagues to create a mentoring network. She also started online fitness sessions for friends and peers. In a time of hardship, Sisly dedicated her energy to creating connected communities where people were able to share their experiences, help each other, and look after their physical and mental wellbeing.

How did your mentoring program work, and what’s happening with it now?

Together with an action group of classmates, we launched a social work peer mentoring group which we promoted through Facebook and WeChat. We had around 15 mentors supporting more than 20 students. We provided guidelines to make mentors and mentees aware of boundaries and what to expect. Mentors and mentees organised virtual meetings to share stories, build connections and talk about their worries.

I mentored two students. At first, we met online to talk about assignments, and challenges and how we could make opportunities out of the situation. Later we’d check in through phone calls, and now I’ve met my mentees in person to celebrate our bravery and courage for getting through such a difficult time.

Our mentoring program came under the Flinders University Social Work Association and is still running. The good news is that the International Student Services team at Flinders University have shown interest in building more networks for this program, especially to help students who are still studying offshore.

How did your virtual fitness classes help students during the lockdown?

My fitness sessions helped students with physical fitness as well as emotional support and providing a sense of routine while we were all stuck at home. They started from my friendship circle and spread out to have over 37 students join our chat group. We had 3 to 5 sessions each week which I adjusted based on our study plans. During the middle of the semester, when our assignments were due, I reduced the intensity of the workouts. Each session had around 5 to 8 people come along, so it was a small group, but there was always someone there.

During the lockdown, I realised how important your living space is to your wellbeing. That’s why I created this fitness group to guide everybody and show them you don’t need much space to exercise. Sometimes you think you can’t do many things, but you actually can.

You supported a lot of people during the pandemic lockdown. How did you get support and practice self-care?

I have a bunch of good friends, and I met my partner just before the lockdown. They gave me a lot of support. When we could, we would go for a walk in the ‘backyard’ of our university where there's a beautiful view of the lake. I also dance in a local dance crew. Even though there was no training or performances, I still managed to practise my hip hop, jazz and K-pop.

Whenever I felt down during the lockdown, I learned to adjust myself in the face of the difficulties. I sought support from others and from within myself and spread the strengths I gained from these experiences by supporting others.


Highly Commended: Oscar Zi Zhao Ong from Malaysia

Studying: PhD in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Adelaide

Oscar was flying back to Adelaide for his PhD studies when the COVID-19 pandemic started to spread in Australia. As the Postgraduate member of the university’s Academic Board, he immediately began advocating for students.  He worked with the university to introduce their COVID-19 Student Support Package (SSP). As the immediate past president of the Adelaide University Union, and the newly elected President of the Student Representative Council (SRC), Oscar worked with his colleagues to make sure the SSP provided students with the financial, wellbeing and academic support they needed.

Oscar knew international students were particularly vulnerable as they couldn’t access government programs such as JobKeeper. He’s tried his best to support positive changes to international students’ lives and says his good relationships across the university helped him advocate for his peers.

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