Since she was a little girl, Tania Areori always wanted to be a vet – despite there being no other female vets in PNG. And after completing a Bachelor of Veterinary Science at Charles Sturt University through Australia Awards PNG, she has achieved this dream, becoming the first Papua New Guinean woman to graduate and work as a vet in PNG!

From Madang and Gulf Provinces and now mother to two young children,  Tania is the Regional Veterinary Officer for the National Agriculture Quarantine and Inspection Authority (NAQIA). Her work often takes her away to remote parts of PNG, away from her family.

Inspired by her late father, who worked with the Department of Agriculture and Livestock, and her mother, a midwife, it was clear from a young age what Tania wanted to do. However, there are no vet courses available in PNG, so Tania had to take a different route to achieve her goal.

“I knew in high school that we did not have many vets in PNG because it was only offered overseas. You needed financial support to study and it is a challenging degree academically. I did not realise there were no female national vets until I graduated from Vet School. I also did not realise what kind of impact that achievement would have with regard to motivating more young men and women to pursue Vet Studies as well as other studies overseas,” says Tania.

She first studied a Bachelor of Science majoring in Animal Biology at University of PNG in Port Moresby, and then worked as an intern Biologist/Honours student with the PNG Institute of Biological Research. Tania never gave up on her dream. In 2014, she applied for an Australia Award to study a Bachelor of Veterinary Science with Honours from Charles Sturt University.

“I applied for the Australia Awards because I knew to study Vet I would either go to Australia or New Zealand and the scholarships provided me that opportunity to try at least. My family was with me from when I sent in my application. I remember us all in the car reading through the paper to find I was shortlisted for the first interview. I remember the joy and excitement in the car, as my family knew about my aspirations and supported me the entire way,” she reflects proudly.

Despite being successful in her application, Tania still faced challenges getting her degree: “At the time I applied, the Australian awards only allowed a four-year undergraduate degree scholarship so any course such as Vet Science that required more than that many years could not be supported. It took a lot of support from my mentors at the University I attended in Australia to allow me to eventually get confirmation to study an undergraduate degree of 6 years”.

Tania was persistent, and in 2020 she successfully graduated from the course and returned to PNG, ready to start work as a vet.

For Tania, studying in Australia exposed her to many new things, not just in her studies but in her life as well.

“I got to travel on the Spirit of Tasmania to do a placement at a Tasmanian Devil Rehabilitation Centre in Hobart where we worked with Tasmanian devils and orange bellied parrots. There, my best friend taught me how to ride horses. Mind you, that was in my first year and I had zero experience with horses, so a significantly terrifying experience!” she jokes.

“It’s also worth mentioning that the most significant experience in Australia was having to learn to be completely independent, living away from family and the support you are so used to. Learning the cultures and way of life of a different country and adapting to it. Australia is such a wonderful place to live in and Wagga Wagga will always be my home.”

Tania speaks highly of her experiences and encourages other aspiring vets to consider applying for an Australia Award: “The scholarship has basically allowed me to achieve my aspirations which was to become a Veterinarian. And we need a lot of Veterinarians in this country. If this is a career path you see yourself in, please take that opportunity Australia Awards provides and apply for the scholarship. We are available if you need advice or direction. Keep asking questions!”

Asking for help is one of the most important pieces of advice that Tania wants to pass on to future applicants and scholars. Australia Awards scholars have access to mentors, supervisors, support staff and even alumni before, during and after their studies to make sure they make the most of the opportunity.

“Realise what an amazing opportunity you have and be open to all the experiences and adventures you have along the way. Get to know people and create your network, because you will need these connections to help you through. Always remember to ask for help, your case managers and course advisors are there to support you,” says Tania.

She also has firm advice for potential applicants in any field of study: “Keep your GPA up. This will improve your chances when you need admission into the University. Get as much hands on experience with animals as you can, volunteer at RSPCA or other organisations. And with your applications, have as many of your mentors review it for you and guide you so that you submit the best application that you are confident with.”

Australia Awards support women and men from all over PNG to achieve their goals, especially for specialised and highly needed occupations in science, technology, engineering and maths fields.