Jennifer Mackenzie and her family migrated to regional NSW from the Philippines in 2012.
There was a lot to get used to: the culture, weather, cost of living and education system.
“It was hard to adjust to life in a small country town,” Jennifer recalls. “My brother and I had to get used to what school was like here. Eventually I loved it.
“I appreciated that my teachers saw something in me, and they helped me blossom in the areas I was good at.”
When she entered high school, Jennifer found her passion in performing arts.
“I had no dance background, but joined the dance team because they were looking for members,” she reflects.
“The dance teacher saw something in me. She took me under her wing and introduced me to opportunities in the performing arts world.”
She also started singing in local events and writing songs.
“I took up HSC Drama and HSC Dance,” she says.
“I’ve always been driven to better myself and my career as a performer.”
These opportunities – and obvious talent – enabled Jennifer to take part in high-profile performances, like the Schools Spectacular in Sydney.
Eventually, she began travelling to Sydney at least one week each month to represent Glen Innes High School in public education programs she had successfully auditioned for.
“I’d go there to dance in performances, for singing lessons or other various rehearsals and training,” she explains.
While Jennifer was grateful for the opportunities, travelling and accommodation costs were high and her family was experiencing financial hardship.
“My mother was the one bearing all of the financial burden,” she explains.
“My dad has had multiple surgeries due to skin cancer. He was unable to work for a long time because he was recovering.
“And now, because of his disabilities, it’s difficult for him to find work again.”
Jennifer overheard a conversation about Youth Off The Streets’ scholarship program, and she decided to apply.
When she was awarded a scholarship in 2019, it made her goals more attainable and lifted some of the financial weight off her family’s shoulders.
“It was such a blessing for my family to hear,” she recalls.
“When I went to the ceremony, they brought me up onto the stage and asked me what I wanted to do after high school.
“At the time, I wanted to study at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), but I wasn’t sure whether I would get in.”
Jennifer’s dream came true, and she was eventually admitted to WAAPA. She moved to Perth to study a Bachelor of Performing Arts.
“I’m two years into my course,” she says. “It has exposed me to many aspects of the performing arts, and practitioners from around the world teach different skills and methods.”
Jennifer – also known by her stage name, Efa – says that she is constantly pushing herself to be as innovative and creative as she can be.
“I want to continue performing, making music, choreography, theatre and hopefully land a record deal,” she says.
It’s a big dream, but Jennifer believes that there is no such thing as a dream too big.
“I want to encourage other young people to dream as big as possible, and never let others undermine them,” she states.
“Throughout the years, I’ve been told that I’m too ambitious or that my dreams are too big for a girl in a small country town.
“But you need to be determined and fight for your dreams. Ask yourself, ‘How far can I go?’”
Thank you to Sony Foundation Australia for supporting young people like Efa in achieving their dreams.
Find out more about the National Scholarship program here.