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Hannah Wandel.

Country to Canberra: Hannah Wandel

Laura Peppas

Most people have probably never heard of Blyth. Nestled between the Clare Hills and the Barunga/Hummocks range in South Australia’s mid-north, it’s a tiny rural town with a population of just 306 people.

Hannah Wandel grew up on a small farm just outside of Blyth; and while she remembers her hometown fondly, she says it didn’t come without obstacles.

“Growing up in the country I think you start realising there are additional challenges that rural students, especially girls, start to face – and because of those financial and geographical barriers, it’s that much harder to attend university or find a job,” Hannah says.

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Luckily Hannah — a motivated and bright 25 year old — did both, studying a double degree in Law and Media at the University of Adelaide and enrolling in a graduate program at the Department of Defence in Canberra, where she is now a Ministerial Liaison.

“When I first visited Canberra, I found it a really inspiring place – it’s Australia’s political capital and where all the decision making happens,” says Hannah.

“I was lucky that I found work here, but I wanted other women in rural areas to get the same opportunity I had.”

Last year, after winning a Great Ydeas grant from YWCA Canberra, Hannah founded Country to Canberra, an organisation that creates increased opportunities and gender equality to empower young women living in rural and remote communities to reach their leadership potential.

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The organisation targets girls in college, providing them with networking, employment and education opportunities via social media and its blog.

Since its inception, Country to Canberra has gained the support of senior Government organisations and figures, such as Member for Canberra Gai Brodtmann and Deputy Australian Public Service Commissioner Stephanie Foster.

The organisation’s flagship initiative was a nationwide essay competition for rural and regional girls in year 11, where the winners received an all-expenses paid trip to visit Canberra and meet with powerful women and motivational mentors, including former Chief Minister Katy Gallagher, Senator Fiona Nash and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

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“We had amazing feedback from the girls from that day saying they felt so inspired and learnt tangible skills that they could take back to their community,” says Hannah.

“One of the girls went on to be school captain and did some work on radio, so in terms of the impact, we definitely had it in 2014 and are just building on it in 2015.”

In the next few years, Hannah says she is interested in addressing the gender imbalance between men and women in powerful positions.

“When I started working I noticed gender pay gaps in Australia; statistics show women still earn 17.1 per cent less than men in Australia and women often are outnumbered rurally in leadership positions, so when you compound those barriers I realised it was a bit harder for women to achieve their goals,” she says.

Balancing “about 20 hours” of work per week for Country to Canberra with her busy job and duties volunteering for the YWCA, Hannah says she is “extremely proud” of what the organisation has achieved in a year.

“When I read the recaps about how these experiences of meeting mentors has affected the girls, it makes me so happy and hopeful that we can continue to build on it,” Hannah says.

Head to the Country to Canberra website to find out more.

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Laura Peppas

Laura Peppas is HerCanberra's senior journalist and communications manager and is the Editor of Unveiled, HerCanberra's wedding magazine. She is enjoying uncovering all that Canberra has to offer, meeting some intriguing locals and working with a pretty awesome bunch of women. Laura has lived in Canberra for most of her life and when she's not writing fervently she enjoys pursuing her passion for travel, reading, online shopping and chai tea. More about the Author

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