Staff profile: Shyama Dookun-Ramburn, Recruitment Coordinator
Shyama Dookun-Ramburn thought she wanted to be an accountant. She had gone to a lot of trouble to make sure she became one.
But at the very moment when 12 years of scheming, working, saving, migrating, studying, and gaining experience had set her up for success, she understood that her heart had strayed and was elsewhere.
That was a perplexing discovery for Shyama, who had grown up in Mauritius, an island nation off the east coast of Africa. She had married at 19, and with her husband had come to Australia to extend her education. She had completed a degree in accounting, had joined an accounting practice, and had in front of her a direct path to endorsement as an accountant.
But she had been moonlighting all the while as a disability support worker with St John of God, filling casual shifts at a respite home for people with intellectual disabilities. And she had grown more and more aware of how much she valued her work there.
“I had just turned 30,” Shyama recalls. “Once I had signed the contract, the accounting firm would pay for my program, and it would be three years of study and another three years of staying with them – so, staying with the company at least six years.
“Which was good. My husband was very happy with that, and my parents were very happy with that, because I would get the big dollars, and a big sign, and a big office, and I’m a Certified Practising Accountant.
“I was happy too. But at the same time, my heart made me think all the time about the respite home. I felt like I was happier when I was with those clients.
“This connected with my thinking about having a family. So would I choose the title and the money, and the stress, or would I choose something where I see people happy, and I know I am contributing in someone’s life, and where I feel that connection in my life?”
What made the question especially troubling was the devotion with which Shyama had made her way to this crossroads.
She and her husband, Ashvin, had each worked two jobs in Mauritius, so that they could save enough money to come to Australia – he as a salesman and pharmacy assistant, and she as an accounts administrator and call-centre operator.
Having arrived in Melbourne, in 2008, they took what work they could get. And so Ash started as a cleaner and forklift driver, while Shyama took on a 4am shift at the Queen Victoria Market.
Before she even began to study accountancy, Shyama’s visa required her to qualify for a role where Australia was officially in need. She chose a Diploma of Community Welfare.
It was during the second year of her diploma that she applied online – and by accident, thinking this was an exercise – for DSW work with St John of God. And was accepted.
“My love for support work started there,” she says. She still works with St John, on weekends.
Meanwhile, she completed her diploma, and then her Bachelor of Business (Accounting and Finance), and worked in finance-related roles with a funeral director and a debt collector, and secured her job with a firm of accountants.
Shyama reserves a special place in her life for her father, who gave her his mother’s name, a name from her Hindu background that means peace. And it was to her father that she turned for advice, as she faced up to doubts about her ambitions.
“He said: ‘If your heart says to you to do this other thing, this is going to be a more rewarding thing,’ she recalls.
However, her mother and Ashvin reminded her of how hard she had striven for a career in finance, and that she had proven herself in that field.
“After thinking and discussing with them for several months,” Shyama remembers, “I said to Ash and my parents: Look, I am not going to sign the contract immediately to become a certified accountant. But I am not going to abandon financial work either, unless I can find something better. Perhaps I need to be satisfied with the good things I have, and not be greedy.
“But let me see if someone will recognise my experience, and allow me to combine both of the skills that I have – my welfare skills and my accounting skills.”
Attempts to find such an employer did not meet early success. “I was rejected by many companies. They said, ‘You don’t really bring anything to welfare.’”
And then a phone call arrived from AQA manager Annie Lillywhite. In an interview, Shyama was asked whether she would consider a different job from the job she had applied for.
It was a job she preferred. “I said: Yes, of course!”
And so in September 2018, Shyama became Recruitment Coordinator for AQA.
It is Shyama who assesses applications from people who would like to be disability support workers. And it is Shyama who brings successful applicants into the AQA team.
“The main reason I penalise applicants is if they don’t have good enough communication skills,” she reveals. “If I, a migrant who speaks English, French and Creole, can’t understand your English, it is going to be very hard to place you in a house with a client.
“It is not that you need an Australian accent. But people need to understand what you are talking about.”
What she likes to see in applicants is some evidence that they might appreciate the less measurable rewards of the work.
“In this field, whatever type of disability it is, you need to have the love for the job,” she explains.
“You need to know the job, to be able to do a good job. And just bringing in a certificate does not make you a good support worker.
“Everything comes with time, and the reward that you get in the long run is bigger.”
Away from work, Shyama keeps fit with boxing several nights a week. She also likes to get out with her dog, a young german shepherd named Hulk.
“I am so grateful that Annie discovered me, and I am sure that by working with her and the team here I will be able to contribute more,” Shyama says. “I hope to stay with AQA until I grow old.”
Author Ian Baker is a content writer for AQA.
AQA is registered with the NDIS to provide a range of services including Support Coordination, Peer Support, and Personal Care Services. We use a lived experience approach to help you start and implement your plan to achieve your personal life goals, find and connect with appropriate services, and help you with preparing for your plan review as it comes due. We also provide Pre-Planning and Troubleshooting as a free service to our community. You can contact us here, or phone AQA.