Receiving an award is always a bit of a surprise, but for Bendigo educator Heather Ridge, the honour of an OAM (Medal of the Order of Australia) was admittedly "a bit of a shock".
Her time as a teacher has taken her all around the world to such places as New York, New Zealand, Timor Leste and even working at schools in Saudi Arabia.
Ms Ridge said she had been "very fortunate" to work in education which offers so much.
"Awards like these are not so much about the individual but the partnerships with people you work with on projects," she said.
"I am honoured. The opportunities I have been given were ones I did not anticipate early on in my professional career."
After completing teacher training at Bendigo Teachers College in 19966-67, Ms Ridge taught at a number of schools in Melbourne and country Victoria.
She won the Lindsay Thompson Fellow, Victorian Teacher of the Year award in 2008 among other accolades through her work with the Eaglehawk Rotary Club.
But the most rewarding aspect of her career has been her work with the Bendigo Maubisse Friendship Committee.
The committee has helped rebuild schools in war-torn Timor Leste and provided education support for the schoolchildren in the town of Maubisse.
Ms Ridge's involvement in the tiny Asian nation came about not long after Timor Leste (or East Timor as it was widely known then) held its vote for independence from Indonesia in 1999.
"Kirsty Sword Gusmao (the wife of Timor Leste leader Xanana Gusmao) grew up in Bendigo and our families were friends," Ms Ridge said.
."Kirsty approached Eaglehawk Rotary Club to rebuild a local school which was devastated and burnt out as the Indonesians left."
That led to a number of trips to help rebuild and refurbish the school at Balibar which then led to a friendship being developed with Maubisse.
Over the years, teams of volunteers from Greater Bendigo have been over to Timor Leste to rebuild schools.
Scholarships sponsored by donors and businesses from central Victoria have seem Timorese schoolchildren benefit from the generosity of the Bendigo community.
"Some of the old schools being torn down here, the furniture was recycled and sent over to help," Ms Ridge said.
"We've sent 40 or 50 containers of recycled furniture and the relationship is ongoing.
Serving as director of English Language Programs at Riyadh Schools for more than 3000 Saudi Arabian children in 2013 was undoubtedly an exciting experience for Ms Ridge but it seems clear what role has given her the most satisfaction as an educator.
She said the Australia Day award was recognition of the success and partnerships Bendigo established to support Timor Leste in the rebuilding stage and helping the country find its feet.
"Timor Leste is our nearest neighbour and after decades of war and destruction, it's been wonderful to see Bendigo pull together and collaborate and share skills and support those less fortunate," Ms Ridge said.
"it's fantastic to see reward for the efforts.
"Our relationship with Timor Leste is really strong and continuing now regardless of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We're still sending furniture and being able to encourage kids to stay at school and go on to uni, giving them the confidence to develop their skills, is a spectacular achievement."
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