Being at a survival camp in the middle of nowhere was the last place on earth that Pep imagined she would find herself, yet there she stood, with the experience having a lasting impact on her life.
Her journey to the camp began after Pep joined the Les Twentyman Foundation’s EMBRACE program when she was 12 years old. As she did not like being the centre of attention, Pep was initially sceptical of whether the program was for her.
“I tried to blend in with the wallpaper so I wouldn’t get into trouble. I didn’t want anyone to notice me and I was scared about making friends,” says Pep.
Her parents tried to help by enrolling her into various sport and other after school activities – but none of these programs had a positive impact upon Pep.
“EMBRACE had a deep impact on my life. It helped me to build life skills. The camps are my fondest memories.”
“My biggest struggle was public speaking, which was a challenge because I was always asked to talk at EMBRACE. It was not something I was comfortable with, yet it ended up being one of the most important skills that I took away. To have the confidence to let my voice be heard.”
Now at 23 years of age, Pep describes the other participants in EMBRACE as being her second family. She says the supportive nature of the program helped her to build relationships that stand today as strongly as they did when she initially joined the program.
“The program really opened my eyes to where young people need help in our community – and the fact that there’s a lack of support, a lack of the right support for young people who need help,” she says.
Growing up Pep lacked confidence and was insecure about her identity, feeling like she wasn’t living up to the expectations of how a girl should look and behave. Some of these expectations were linked to her family’s Samoan heritage and values, with Pep feeling pressure to be a successful doctor.
“In Year 10, I had a mental health breakdown. I just couldn’t do it anymore. I’d start crying at school for no reason.”
Pep tried to hide the emotional pressure she was feeling from her parents, but her mum knew that she was not coping. After spending time with a counsellor, Pep found the courage to tell her parents that she didn’t want to become a doctor and that she was going to pursue a career in human resources.
“I was inspired by a woman who spoke at one of our EMBRACE sessions. She was the former HR Manager of National Tiles and at the time I didn’t even know what HR was. But she talked about how the role focused on helping employees, looking after their rights and their benefits and that really appealed to me.”
At the same time, one of Pep’s cousins was having issues with HR and lost her job, with the unfair process igniting a passion in HR for Pep, who will graduate from a Bachelor of Human Resource Management from Australian Catholic University at the end of the year.
“We’re waiting to find out what graduation will look like because of the pandemic.”
Given her background and experiences, Pep strongly resonates with the struggles that many immigrants experience when it comes to fitting in with western culture.
“I am seeing how young people struggle and try to fit in, following the trends, what’s on social media and all the expectations that come with that,” Pep said.
When asked what advice Pep would give to her younger self, Pep would say “It’s ok to be who you are, don’t doubt yourself. Just be your own unique self”.