In the first few weeks of her Graduate Certificate of Permaculture Design at CQUniversity, Monbulk mother Sonja Leigh suddenly felt the weight of the world on her shoulders.
“I got so overwhelmed by how big the issues are that impact our communities – I did feel weighed down,” she said.
But hearing from inspiring guest speakers, including a class dinner with permaculture co-originator David Holgrem, didn’t just change Sonja’s perspective – it changed her life.
“Their advice was ‘create the world you want around you’,” she explained.
“That’s all you can do – and within the course, our lecturer Dr Keri Chiveralls has really shown us how that’s possible.
“It’s really empowered me to start making the changes I want to see.”
Living with her husband and three sons aged 1, 2, and 4, in Melbourne’s beautiful Dandenong Ranges, earlier this year Sonja was inspired to start a campaign to stop using harmful plastic drinking straws in the region.
Sonja with her husband Joshua and sons Harvey, Milo and Coen
“I’ve always been passionate about protecting the environment, and since I started this course, it really has been an epiphany of how I could help,” Sonja said.
Since founding Swap the Straw Dandenong Ranges in April, Sonja has worked with local businesses to phase out plastic straws, and is running a competition for local primary school students to design creative ways to get rid of the environmental hazards.
“I’ve been going out to businesses and schools and families and doing a lot of talks, and there’s been so much interest and support,” she said.
“The course has definitely pushed me out there into the world – all the content has been so inspiring, I feel like it’s been designed for me!”
A former finance statistician for big banks, Sonja said her background in Engineering and Mathematical Sciences was good preparation for her new passion.
“I love data, and stats, and I was always armed with statistics in my professional life… but now I’ve got all that around environmental impact, and I’ve developed confidence in my own opinion and knowledge,” she said.
While balancing her study with campaigning and family life is a challenge, Sonja finds Permaculture principles also help to get everything working together.
“I do a lot of weekend work at the library, and because I’m studying by distance, it’s easy to go and dial in to class from the backyard, and it’s definitely an appropriate setting!” she said.
Sonja said becoming a mum definitely fired up her passion for creating a better world – and her sons are already following in her footsteps.
“When we go for a walk, they love taking bags and picking up all the rubbish we find, to save it from the waterways, and to recycle,” she said.
“And my four-year-old is already a little campaigner – if we go to a café, he’s the first to say, ‘No straws!’, it’s great!”
CQUniversity Discipline Leader for Permaculture Design and Sustainability Dr Chiveralls said the course had been growing since it launched in 2016, welcoming lecturer Dr Amie Anastasi to the course team.
“As well as our flexible classes, we’ve had a great response to our residential school experiences at the Food Forest in Gawler, South Australia, and The Kul Kul Farm in Bali, Indonesia,” Dr Chiveralls said.
“Students come to the course wanting to be inspired around permaculture, and the impact they can have in their communities – so seeing permaculture in action has been truly transformative.”
Sonja said she hopes to develop a 'No Waste' school program in the course of her studies, to help schools and their communities reduce waste.
“I already have several schools willing to pilot and test the program from next year – it’s very exciting!” she said.
CQUniversity’s Graduate Certificate in Permaculture Design is available for distance study, across 12 months part-time.
Not in Australia? We have loads of courses from across the globe here: www.permaculture.co.uk/courses