Sofia Salouri: The Greek teacher who teaches indigenous children in remote Kowanyama

4 June, 2024

Sophia Salouri, a dynamic and dedicated educator, was recently interviewed on 3XY Radio Hellas on Nikos Loupos’ show, where she spoke about her unique journey from Melbourne to remote Kowanyama, Queensland and her experience as a teacher in an indigenous community.

The decision to move

In 2015, a chance opportunity for a trip to Cairns was the starting point for her decision to leave Melbourne. “When I stepped foot in Cairns airport, the heat hit me in the face, so I realised this was the place for me,” she said. For the next seven years, he visited Cairns regularly to assess the weather and quality of life, and eventually decided to move there permanently.

The winters in Melbourne were severely affecting her mood, leading to depression. “I didn’t want to get out of bed and do housework or schoolwork. I didn’t even want to see or talk to anyone,” she revealed. Moving to Queensland, with its warm and sunny climate, seemed to be the ideal solution.

In 2022, Salouri found the perfect home in Trinity Beach, about three kilometres from the beach. “I was so lucky to find a brand new 4-bedroom house for only $670,000, a house that would be worth over $2 million in Melbourne,” she said.

The proposal for Kowanyama

In November 2022, she received a call from the Cairns Department of Education offering her a teaching position at Kowanyama, despite the fact that she had planned to move to Cairns in July 2024. They needed teachers in these remote areas and Sophia saw this opportunity as a unique challenge. “I have always wanted to immerse myself in an indigenous community and this opportunity was perfect for me,” she said.

Life in Kowanyama

Kowanyama is located on the eastern side of the Gulf of Carpentaria, on the Cape York Peninsula, and is known for its barramundi fishery. “We have 2 seasons here – the wet season and the dry season. The temperatures here range from 32 – 35 degrees every day,” he described. “Swimming is prohibited because of the many crocodiles, but teachers find areas to swim during the dry season.”

Kowanyama is home to three main tribes: the Kokoberra, Kokomemjena, and Kunjun. Sophia was baptised as Kokoberran, which gives her access to all areas of the community and protects her from harm. “Being accepted by the indigenous community is an honor and a blessing,” she said.

The infrastructure of Kowanyama

The community has limited facilities: a petrol station, a small supermarket, a nursing home for about eight people, a clinic and an open-air pub, which operates from Wednesday to Saturday between 5pm and 10pm.

The school in Kowanyama

The school that Sophia teaches at has about 220 pupils from Prep to Year 10, with 15 teachers and room for more. It offers educational programs such as sports, arts, cooking and country learning, where students learn from the elders in their traditional homelands. They also teach compulsory subjects like reading, writing, mathematics, science and humanities.

Teachers in Kowanyama receive various incentives to work in remote areas, such as travel and transportation cost coverage, extra holidays and very cheap rent ($17 per fortnight). This year, they will also receive a one-time $5,000 payment in December due to the teacher shortage.

Challenges and adaptations in education

Education in Kowanyama faces significant barriers, such as lack of relevance of the curriculum and lack of qualified teachers. “We are in the process of changing the current curriculum to fit and relate more closely to the lives and experiences of the children of Kowanyama,” said Sophia.

After Year 10, students have to leave the community to attend boarding school, which causes stress for them and their families. “Moving from home to attend school in a capital city or regional centre can be a traumatic experience for indigenous children,” she pointed out.

A new educational approach

Sofia highlighted the differences between remote education and education in big cities. “In our school, there is a wide range of abilities, with good and weak students. A good teacher has to make sure the lessons fit the needs of each child,” she said.

At Kowanyama, students do not receive homework assignments, as many do not have access to the internet or computers. “Home is where children learn about their culture, traditions and family. That’s their homework,” she explained.

Sofia’s decision to move from Melbourne, the second largest Greek city in the world, was a difficult one. “It took me seven years to decide, knowing that I would miss the cultural events, the range of restaurants, the shopping malls and of course my friends and family,” she admitted.

However, her experience at Kowanyama has proved invaluable, bringing positive results in the students’ education and offering her a new perspective on her life and career.

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