Staff profile: Sibel Toremis, NDIS Support Coordinator
After more than six years at AQA, Sibel takes on her biggest challenge yet in helping participants build their capacity to thrive under the NDIS.
Sibel pronounces her first name Si-BELL. “People reading it think it should sound like SIB-yll,” she observes. Her surname, Toremis, is pronounced Ter-emm-ish. When you meet Sibel, the first thing that is likely to strike you after the welcome in her smile and the twinkle of good humour in her eye is her accent, from which you might conclude she was a recent migrant from Europe.
You would be wrong on the first count, for Sibel has lived in Australia for more than 18 years, since 2000. And you would be almost wrong on the second. Sibel grew up in a suburb of Istanbul, the biggest city in Turkey, which is in western Turkey, adjoining the south-eastern edge of Europe. Sibel says she still has an accent because she remained in Turkey until she was 23. “My sister came here at 16 and her accent is 10 times better than mine.” But she was pleased when she visited Turkey last year and a Scottish tourist picked her, from hearing her voice, as an Aussie.
Sibel joined AQA in 2012, at first briefly taking on a rostering role. She arrived here with a degree in psychology and a masters degree in human resource management – the latter earned in Australia. In Turkey she had wanted to work as a clinical psychologist, but saw that it was not likely she would be helping the people there who most needed help.
Immediately after gaining her HRM masters from Monash University, Sibel accepted work as an assistant occupational therapist at Austin Health. An HR post as recruitment coordinator with a disability support company followed. “It was a great learning curve,” she says. “It was exciting and an eye-opener, and gave me a lot of insight into the disability industry.” But after three years, she wanted something more challenging.
She certainly has that in her position as NDIS Support Coordinator, which began in January 2019. In this her fourth role at AQA, her mission is to help new National Disability Insurance Scheme participants build their capacity to make the most of the services available.
“I am looking forward to meeting all the people who we are supporting,” she says, “and the NDIS is very much a changing landscape. Capacity building is our goal. The NDIS is a great disability services reform, but there is still lots to learn for the participants, providers, and everyone else involved.”
Sibel’s biggest strength in the role, she believes, will be her conscientious approach to it. “Being thorough. And probably also my compassion.”
Long-time Spire Peer Support Coordinator Peter Van Benthem will work with her, as he worked with her predecessor, bringing his deep lived experience with spinal cord injury, extensive networks, and highly developed mentoring skills.
“It will be amazing collaborating with Peter,” Sibel says. “I have so much to learn from him.”
The best part of the job: “That you know when you go home that you have made a difference to someone’s life. That means a lot to me.”
So what happens on a Friday night, when Sibel goes home at the end of the week? “In summer, I like to sit down with friends and have a gin and tonic,” she says with a laugh. “I like spending time with family. We have a very wide family in Melbourne, and because we are Turkish we are very close-knit. I see my mother three or four days a week.
“I am an animal person. I love dogs and cats. If I see one in a client’s home, I cannot help myself – I will pet them.
“I also love watching TV.” Her favourite show is The Late Show, hosted by US comedian Stephen Colbert. Digital media she finds less attractive. “I see social media mainly as a marketing tool for media companies.”
When Sibel was in her mid-20s, after she had completed her masters degree, she returned to Istanbul and spent a further year there. There was a possibility she would stay, but in interviews for HR jobs she recognised that she found workplace relations in Australia more egalitarian and respectful.
“People thought I was crazy to come back to Turkey,” she says. “Going back there opened my eyes to the reality that even when you are just crossing the road in Australia you have the right to expect that you are not going to be killed. In Turkey, cars do not respect pedestrians.
“Australia is so good. It can always improve of course, but we do have a very good healthcare system here compared with most other countries.
“I have come from a city where you cannot drink the tap water, because it is not of good quality. Every time I visit Turkey, the first thing I do when I come back to Melbourne is drink a glass of tap water. Wow, what a privilege! What a lovely thing we have here!”
Author Ian Baker is a content writer with AQA/Spire.