Susanna Matters – Rising Star
Susanna Matters


Susanna Matters – Rising Star

March 16, 2021


2020 Alumni Award Winner – Rising Star

BA/DipEd 2013

Susanna Matters often tells how, as a young girl who wasn’t allowed a Barbie, she was instead given the Adventures of Vicky, a magazine that contained a doll on the cover. Every issue, a new outfit was attached, complete with an empowering message or profession for girls to engage in. The first issue, Vicky was dressed for an African safari, and Susanna’s curiosity was piqued. ‘I was fascinated with other cultures,’ she remembers. ‘And curious to explore my world.’

It was the 90s, and girls could be anything, but Susanna already had strong female role models in her life. ‘My grandmother Dr Anna Frenkel was a fierce advocate for women’s rights and a barrister in family law at a time when few women practised. She instilled a strong sense of social justice in her family.’

Susanna’s mother Dr Emily Matters, a teacher of 53 years, has also been influential, both as her master teacher and Girl Guide leader. But Susanna’s influences go beyond her inner circle: ‘As a young woman, I discovered a lot about myself by volunteering with Girl Guides NSW and ACT, UN Women (a United Nations entity working for the empowerment of women), and UNICEF Australia.

‘I was mentored in these organisations by women, from all walks of life, who generously shared their wisdom with me. They recognised the importance of young women feeling heard and having a seat at the table.’

Though she might have once stood on the shoulders of others, Susanna is not one to follow another’s footsteps. Inspired and aware from a young age, with a family that valued living authentically, Susanna developed what she calls her heart song, her true purpose. ‘One of my core values is to be wholehearted; to do things from the heart,’ she says.

Perhaps, with this to guide her, she has been able to achieve so much at such a young age. It is also what she imparts to her students and would encourage others to discover. ‘Explore lots of different interests until you find your heart song – the one that you engage in from a place of love; that gives you the drive to be a skilled and curious practitioner; that gives your role in society purpose.’

And, no doubt, help and inspire others. Whether that is the group of young girls she teaches at a girls’ school in Sydney’s north, or further afield in Kenya, Susanna says of her calling, ‘The work of an educator is universal – in Kenya, I use Goods for Girls as a platform to empower young women, while back home, I champion Australia’s future female leaders.

‘I want my students here to be bold in their thinking and speak for others who may not feel heard. At the heart of my work, both overseas and at home, is the message that knowledge must always be accompanied by empathy.’

This holistic approach to her practice was inspired by Dr Penny van Bergen’s lectures that were part of Susanna’s BA/Dip Ed at Macquarie: ‘It informs my professional decisions daily,’ she says.

‘Penny taught me the importance of considering the whole child – the motivations, strengths and needs of learners are informed by so many different influences and formative experiences. Penny’s lessons continue to remind me that no meaningful learning can occur without a teacher taking the time to understand all students as individuals.’

It’s a lesson she has taken to her work in Kenya, where her perceptive nature led her to understand what hinders – and helps – girls access educational opportunities. Susanna explains, ‘In my final year of studying to be a teacher, I completed an ethical-tourism placement in Kenya and had the opportunity to teach at schools in a village called Muhaka.

‘I made close friendships and learned that my female students were missing school when they had their period because sanitary pads weren’t readily available. At first, I donated disposable products, but realised I needed to collaborate with other field partners and locals to come up with a more sustainable, empowering solution – training young women how to make re-washable sanitary pads.’

And school attendance has gone up 44 per cent. The girls have also acquired new skills in sewing and become self-sufficient, among other skills that can be applied in life more broadly. ‘What is most rewarding about the work of Goods for Girls is the realisation that from little things, big things really do grow – from learning how to sew a sanitary pad, girls can feel safe and comfortable at school so they can attend more often. They can also start to sew other goods such as doilies and baby clothes from fabric offcuts, which can be a source of income.

‘In turn, girls can purchase items that make life easier, such as mobile phones, which allow for communication and are a means of transferring funds. Ultimately, the result is young women are inspiring each other, and teaching each other. It really is about creating a positive ripple effect.’

It’s clear that Susanna’s work – that of a true educator – isn’t done. Before the pandemic, her efforts were focused on building girls’ toilets at schools in the Rift Valley in Africa. She will return to those schools as soon as she can to complete a needs analysis, and she’d also like to take Goods for Girls’ patterns and materials for re-washable sanitary pads to more remote areas, which is currently prohibitive due to transport costs.

There are practical things to be done, for sure, but the higher goal of raising the conversation around the girl-child – and what she needs to thrive – is never far away. ‘What’s closest to my heart as an educator is the idea of helping students to empower themselves – that’s the greatest gift we can give someone. Contributing to society from a place of love, courage and integrity is the only kind of success for which I strive.’

May Susanna’s heart song continue to ring strong and true and may she continue to rise, lifting those around her too.

Words: Megan English

Susanna Matters is a primary educator with a background in advocacy and international development. In 2010, she was an Australian delegate to the 54th United Nations Commission into the Status of Women. Together with her colleagues at the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS), she lobbied for the International Day of the Girl Child, which was implemented in 2012. Susanna is also a former UNICEF Australia Young Ambassador.

During her BA/DipEd (2013) at Macquarie University, Susanna went to Kenya as a volunteer teacher and, in response to the situation where girls were missing up to a quarter of their education due to a lack of access to sanitary products, she founded Goods for Girls. Susanna was named The Australian Women’s Weekly’s inaugural Woman of the Future for her work, and Good for Girls has directly contributed to increasing girls’ attendance rates at school in Muhaka, Kenya, by 44 per cent.

In 2015, Susanna received the New South Wales Teachers’ Guild Certificate of Excellence for Early Career Teachers. In 2017, she was awarded with excellence a Masters in Gifted Education from the University of NSW and named the Australian College of Educators NSW Young Professional of the Year. In 2018, she was accredited as an experienced teacher and, most recently, Susanna has completed a Professional Certificate of Educational Neuroscience from the University of Melbourne. Currently teaching at Abbotsleigh in Wahroonga, NSW, Susanna leads from the heart to create a positive ripple effect for young girls everywhere.

Comment (1)

  1. Bronwen Calcraft

    Inspiring! Amazing work Susanna! – especially in this current social climate and having just celebrated International Women’s Day. I will share this with the students and staff at Ravenswood.


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