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Vlasta’s journey from the Velvet Revolution to supporting migrants and refugees

By Barry de Silva | March 23, 2024

Growing up behind the Iron Curtain in communist Czechoslovakia during the 1970s was a disheartening period for Vlasta Gunning and her family; however, this period of her life shaped her future. Vlasta shared the story of her upbringing, her involvement in the Velvet Revolution, and how, at Navitas Skilled Futures, she now supports migrants and refugees arriving in Australia. 

Vlasta with a student

With Vlasta’s parents staunchly opposing the political unrest in 1968 in their home country and not members of the ruling party, they faced many challenges. Despite these hardships, Vlasta recalled her upbringing with resilience, including the attempt by her parents to escape to Austria when she was 15 years old. 

“I remember as a child there were times when we struggled as a family,’ Vlasta revealed. “We didn’t have much, but my parents’ courage and determination never waived. 

“On one occasion my parents tried to start a new life in Austria, and we even spent a week in Vienna, but due to my grandfather being unwell we went back to Czechoslovakia,” she said. “When we returned, my parents were arrested at the border, my brother and I were interrogated, and our car was taken apart – it was frightening.” 

This experience on the border fuelled Vlasta’s rebellious spirit and instilled her appreciation for freedom and opportunity, leading to her involvement in the Velvet Revolution in late 1989. 

Vlasta and her family looking out of a window

“It was probably the largest anti-government protest in Czechoslovakian history and was led by approximately 500,000 students on the streets of Prague and Bratislava,” she said. “As a member of the eldest year at high school we would go down to the communist government buildings and yell out that we’d had enough.  It was quite amazing, as the government abdicated in just over a month, ending 40 years of communist rule.” 

In 1999, Vlasta’s journey took a fresh turn when she immigrated to Australia to learn English and pursue new opportunities. She initially planned to stay for 25 weeks, but Vlasta now calls Sydney home.  

“As a linguist, I knew the only way to learn English was living in the country. Australia appealed to me as I could get a work permit and student visa, but 25 weeks was not enough! Now over 25 years later, I have a son and daughter, and I love Australia!”

Vlasta Gunning, Quality Assurance Lead at Navitas Skilled Futures

After a career in retail, Vlasta’s path led her to Navitas Skilled Futures where she found fulfilment in helping others navigate the challenges of adapting to a new country and learning English. 

“I’ve always loved teaching and connecting with people,” Vlasta said. “Being able to share my own experiences and support refugees and migrants on their journey is incredibly rewarding.” 

Last year, Vlasta taught the English for Sewing program, a project that combines English classes with learning to sew. Ten Afghan women, many of whom were stay-at-home mothers with low- level English, participated in the program. 

“That was precisely what makes my job worthwhile. The women were initially apprehensive, but within a few weeks they were there before me and very excited. They were wonderful and it was a pleasure to teach them.” 

As  Quality Assurance Lead at Navitas Skilled Futures, Vlasta plays a vital role in ensuring the quality and effectiveness of educational programs for NSF students. Her first-hand experience of overcoming adversity informs her approach to teaching and leadership, making her a valuable asset to the Navitas Skilled Futures’ team. 

“I believe in the power of education to transform lives. Every day, I’m grateful for the opportunity to make a difference, and help our students build a brighter future for themselves and their families.” 

Vlasta Gunning, Quality Assurance Lead at Navitas Skilled Futures

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