Mel Wojtas was raised by the water on the Central Coast peninsula, sparking a life-long love for the outdoors. Tumultuous teenage years populated by family heartbreak and personal trauma caused her to leave school without her HSC. Now, Mel’s a mum-of-two with a groundbreaking plan to harness her past for social good. Here, she talks surviving domestic abuse, her passion for adventure and how she’s learned to dream big.
“I was lucky enough to receive a Future Women gift membership, compliments of Women’s Safety NSW. It has been a wonderful and insightful network of women in business. I enjoy the quality of the content, newsletters, engaging discussions in the members group and curated social club, which I’m yet to attend but have been eyeing them off.
“I’m currently working through the Ignite Business Incubator program, thanks to a scholarship I received from Women’s Business School. I’m fleshing out my vision and business plan for a purpose driven start-up: Hive Village Project. Creating permanent, inclusive and accessible housing for human and animal survivors of domestic and family abuse in regional Australia.
“I’m fortunate to be a Voices for Change Survivor-Advocate in two programs run by Domestic Violence NSW, representing both women and the LGBTIQ community. Individually and collectively we speak out for those who can’t, sharing our experiences and knowledge with each other and the media. Our mission is to create positive changes to current systems, policies and attitudes for people who have experienced abuse and violence. I’m thrilled to be making some final arrangements for some upcoming interstate travel, to join hundreds of kickass business owner mums at the 2019 AusMumpreneur Conference and Awards Gala in Melbourne. I’ve had the honour of being named a finalist in two categories, in my first year of being nominated so drafting a speech (just in case) is also on my to-do list.
“I’m passionate about social justice, intersectional feminism, the environment, exploring new landscapes and memorable experiences with my children. I fill up my cup by connecting with them and teaching them to appreciate nature.
“With less than two weeks until the 2019 National Housing Conference in Darwin, I’m downloading AHURI Executive Summaries and housing sector research as pre-conference reading (or at the least – on the plane trip over from Sydney, reading). I enjoy listening to thought-provoking TED talks and have begun following the ‘Women of Influence’ podcast, hosted by Kate Meade for ACE Radio.
“The quote I live by is Maya Angelou’s ‘I come as one, but I stand as ten thousand’.
“I’ve met so many remarkable women professionally: Rosie Batty OA, Rochelle Courtney, Tracey Spicer AM, Angela (Anj) Barker, Ronni Khan, Moo Baulch and Chrissy Leontios, that’s it’s hard to choose just one. Personally, it would have to be my Babcia (Polish for Grandmother), Jozefa Wojtas. She survived unspeakable traumas in Poland, separated from her parents and marrying a stranger, a soldier in a working camp, giving birth to my Uncle in Germany and then resettling in Australia via an immigrant ship from Naples in 1949. Babcia lived with my parents for the first two decades of their marriage and she helped raise my twin sister and me, with unconditional love. It took me until my 30’s to realise her ‘love language’ was gift-giving and to stop trying to convince her to stop…Her grit makes her remarkable and I call her ‘Badass Babcia’.
“I’d love to learn how to surf and refurb a Kombi van, or caravan, for some epic road trips. The satisfaction of working with your hands and seeing the fruits of your labour, plus any excuse for an adventure! Professionally, I’m hungry to learn as much as possible from my peers and leaders in the Housing and Community sectors, so I can sustainably and respectfully run Hive Village Project. That means working with regional domestic and family abuse/violence services, the LGBTIQ community, DFV survivors and disability activists to co-design a pilot site next year.
“My driving force is harnessing any trauma, injustice and generational pain – or patriarchal rage – and channelling it towards leaving a legacy of giving back and speaking out to against this epidemic in Australia. I may have felt invisible for part of my life, yet that doesn’t mean it is true or what defines me for my lifespan. My pain is my motivation and my work has been part of my continued healing. My babcia told me: ‘You can never stop the (domestic) violence. There has always been violence and always will be’, and I promised her ‘I’ll do my best while I’m alive’ and I meant it.
“Outside of work I love to be close to or in salt water, go for bushwalks, collect tattoos, marvel at the sunlight dancing through leaves, road trip with my kids, forest bathe or simply be with the people I love. I’m a home body, so most of my social outings are advocacy or industry events.
“The future for women is intersectional and moving past equality towards liberation. Equity is a big step in the right direction, but still not enough to correct all the atrocities of historical and current systems and attitudes that continue to oppress marginalised groups.
“We can lift each other up when we acknowledge and use any privilege we have as a platform to shine a light on marginalised groups and insist they get a seat at the table. It’s magic when people let go of ego and help others without an agenda. We all win when we recognise the good we see others putting out into the world.
“I’m most fulfilled when I feel like I’ve made a positive impact during an interaction with someone. I glow after a day of learning new skills, or attending a workshop. When I walk out of a public speaking event with a genuine smile on my face, I take a moment to let it sink in that is my life now. My younger self never would’ve imagined dreaming this big.
“Self-care means being mindful of what messages I consume (toxic and unhealthy news/media/comments/people) and unapologetically choosing myself and what my body, mind and soul need, over other peoples’ expectations. Mental wellness is vital to managing a mental illness.”
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