This year, UC is celebrating our 30th anniversary as a university.
We've achieved a lot over the past 30 years – risen in world rankings, conducted breakthrough research, opened world-class learning, teaching and sporting facilities, and expanded our academic offerings.
All this has been possible because of the amazing people who make up the UC community.
The journey to university is different for everyone.
For some, it means finishing high school and getting an ATAR that secures your offer at your university of choice. For others, there are pathways and alternate entry options. But for Jason Howes, it took moving countries, learning English, and completing high school at the age of 21 before he was able to begin studying at the University of Canberra.
Born and raised in Colombia, Jason is one of 11 siblings, and spent his childhood collecting recyclables to help support his family.
“I was brought up in poverty. When I was a kid, I didn’t really go to school much because I was helping my mum with the recyclables work,” Jason says.
On the days when he did make it to school, Jason says he was a good student and enjoyed learning. But life was yet to become a little bit harder. Due to a series of unfortunate circumstances, he ended up in an orphanage where he lived for seven years.
“It was a very difficult time,” Jason says.
“Life in an orphanage means living in a place where you feel unloved, and without a sense of belonging.”
“I felt lost in the world, and like I didn’t have an identity.”
The orphanage where Jason lived was Catholic, run by nuns. Every morning, the children would have to wake up at 4am, take a cold shower, and attend the on-site chapel for prayer time.
It was in those sunrise hours that Jason found God, whom he credits for taking him out of a dark place.
“I truly believe that God heard my prayers and was faithful to me,” he says.
“I prayed for a family, and even when I couldn’t see the plan God had for my life, I know that He had everything under control.”
And although he didn’t give up hope completely, in the back of his mind Jason thought he was too old to be adopted — but just when he thought all hope was lost, an Australian missionary came to volunteer at the orphanage.
“He was my houseparent and he ended up adopting me and my best friend,” Jason says.
“He went from being my best friend to my brother, so we have a really strong relationship.”
“My dad gave us everything we had always dreamed of. He gave us an amazing family, along with the love, belonging, and identity that we felt we never had.”
It was his adoptive dad that encouraged him to further his education. Jason enrolled in a six-month intensive English course, and at age 19 began Australian schooling at a Year 10 level.
“When I started senior school at St Edmunds, I had a really good experience. The school was welcoming, and the other students were very supportive,” he says.
Finally, Jason belonged.
Speaking about his dad, Jason has nothing but praise and admiration.
“I’ve never met anyone like him, he’s so compassionate and humble,” Jason says.
“He’s always helping people and giving his best – he’s my inspiration.”
Soon after moving to Australia, Jason knew that he too wanted to help people – just as he had been helped.
He elected to sponsor an Indonesian child and began working at Coles to ensure he’d be able to continue to do so.
He also began volunteering at Southern Cross Kids Camps (SCKC) – a camp for school-aged children with troubled home lives – and he hasn’t looked back.
“I just love it - we get to work with the kids for a whole week and it’s so rewarding to see them advance in that week - it’s really touching,” Jason says.
Following his graduation from high school, Jason started a business degree at UC. But he soon realised that his work at the SCKC was where his passion lay - in educating and teaching children.
After just one semester, Jason knew that he would rather follow a Bachelor of Education course, so he could help kids learn and grow – an opportunity he wasn’t given early in life.
“When I moved to Australia there were so many teachers who helped get me up to speed,” Jason says.
“I hope that I will be able to inspire my own students one day.”
Now, Jason is being recognised for the work he has done to make the world a better place. Earlier this year, he was awarded the Personal Achievement Award at the ACT Young Citizen of the Year Awards.
“To be nominated for an award felt amazing and was recognition of the long journey I have travelled to get to this point,” Jason says.
His motivation? Helping people who need it most.
“At the end of my life, I’m going to die, and I can’t take anything with me,” Jason says.
“That’s why I want to spend my time on earth helping people. It’s what I have planned for my future.”
Jason's dad Jon Howes is a University of Canberra alumnus – look out for his story, coming soon as part of UnCover's 30th Anniversary series.
Words by Elly Mackay. Photos supplied.
In this special 30th anniversary series, UnCover is sharing the inspiring stories of UC staff, students, and alumni.
Know someone with a great story? Send their details to email@example.com.