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Scholarship makes dreams a reality


Zoe Satherley
8 September 2009
When 15-year-old Moacir Palacios fled Nicaragua five years ago to escape a home life of violence and poverty, he could never have imagined the path his life would take.

Stopped by Mexican immigration authorities on his way to America, Moacir, who will tomorrow be awarded an Innis Foundation Scholarship to study at Southern Cross University’s Riverside campus in Tweed Heads, was taken with his brother to Mision Mexico – an orphanage for abused and neglected children founded by an Australian couple in Tapachula, in southern Mexico.

“When they told us we had to go to a refuge we tried to refuse, but they took us anyway,” said Moacir.

“Little did we know how much the orphanage would change our lives. It’s like a big family with about 50 other children and young people there who have grown to be like my brothers and sisters, and the owners have become like my parents.

“They look out for opportunities for the kids, and two years ago I visited the Sunshine Coast after a support group raised funds to sponsor three of us to come over for four months.

“That led to me meeting Norm Innis and learning about his scholarship foundation, which eventually led me to where I am now.

“It’s amazing – I never thought I would be travelling, speaking another language or studying at university in Australia.”

Moacir is undertaking studies in Sports Management (Surfing Studies) thanks to a $12,500 scholarship from the N. J. Innis Charitable Foundation, a support program set up by former Quiksilver International general manager and Surfing Australia chairman, Norm Innis.

The Innis Scholarship is part of Southern Cross University’s Rising Stars Scholarships program which currently benefits 100 students, with the University Foundation committed to raising $5 million for more scholarships over the next four years.

“I have had a wonderful career in the surfing industry, which is why I set up the scholarship to give disadvantaged young people the opportunity to do the surfing course at SCU,” said Norm.

“The scholarship has not previously been opened up to people from overseas, but I was impressed by Moacir’s passion for surfing and his easy-going personality despite everything he has been through.

“You could almost say surfing has been his saviour, so for me he was the obvious and logical candidate for this year’s scholarship.”

Moacir said his dream was to put his studies into practice by using the power of surfing to help young people from his home town in Mexico to turn their lives around.

“The orphanage runs a surfing program where all the children travel half an hour to the nearest beach once a week to learn water safety and surfing,” said Moacir.

“Like a lot of the other kids I had never heard of surfing before, but once we tried it, it was like an escape for us because it was a time when we could forget everything and be free from our past.

“I’d like to use what I learn here to open a surf shop and a surf school over there. By introducing surfing to the community I hope to reach out to kids and help them get off the streets and avoid drugs.

“I’ve seen it work before and I have received so much - I’d like to give something back.”

Media are invited to attend as Moacir Palacios is officially presented with his 2009 Innis Foundation Scholarship for the Diploma in Sport Management (Surfing Studies) on Wednesday, September 9, at 1pm, at SCU Riverside, Brett Street, Tweed Heads. Norm Innes, Moacir Palacios and Southern Cross University reprepsentatives will be available to photograph and interview.

Photo: Moacir Palacios, who has been awarded an Innis Foundation Scholarship.