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Southbanker_9517

08 Apr 2020

Southbanker_9517 Image

From ashes to dreams

By Jack Hayes

It was May 30, 2019.

Kajal Pala’s husband Dipesh, an agile capability leader at IBM, was working late into the night when he decided to lock their balcony door and head to bed.

Instead of seeing Southbank’s cityscape with the Yarra flowing below it, he discovered smoke billowing from their 19-storey apartment on Whiteman St.

A fire had broken out in a faulty air conditioning unit, no more than five centimetres from the bed of their sleeping daughter.

The quick-thinking couple swiftly grabbed their children, aged 10 and 12, and began to notify their neighbours.

“It was absolutely terrifying. Between the fire and my daughter there was only one piece of glass,” Mrs Pala said.

“Even though the fire started on our balcony, the fire alarms weren’t activated for some time. It wasn’t until the smoke entered the apartment next door that the sprinklers started to go off.”

“Our next-door neighbours, who have a toddler, had to scale the stairs from the 19th floor at 1am. It was all pretty horrifying.”

According to news reports, crews were able to bring the fire under control in 33 minutes and stopped it from spreading to adjoining buildings.

Finding a silver lining in such trying times can often be hard, however, Mrs Pala explained her children have learned to become much more resilient.

Despite the close call, Amba, 12, and Kanha, 10, both escaped the blaze unharmed.

“Between the fire and the fact that we had to move from apartment to apartment before finding a new place to settle, the children were put through a lot,” Mrs Pala said.

“At no point did they complain about what was going on. They just kept moving forward as young kids do.”

After arriving in Southbank from Brisbane in 2015, Mrs Pala received a scholarship to complete an MBA at the La Trobe Business School.

During her time research, Mrs Pala noticed that children in Australia were not exposed to high-quality, career-specific, learning until a much later age.

This is where the seeds for Dream City were sewn.

Opening late last year at DFO South Wharf, Dream City’s immersive learning experience pushes the conventions of traditional childhood learning.

Coined as Australia’s first “edutainment” theme park, Dream City introduces children aged from three to 14 to a career-focused learning, following the science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics (STEAM) curriculum.

“We have worked with educators and industry experts to develop learning experiences such as operating flight simulators, fighting virtual fires, performing surgery and producing podcasts,” she said.

“Not only are children learning technical skills, but they are also learning soft skills like socialising, co-operating and organising.”

Mrs Pala said the response to Dream City had been overwhelming, prompting coverage on both Channel 7 News and Sunrise.

Now settled with her family in their new apartment on Clarendon St, the Pala family are firmly entrenched in the Southbank way of life.

“Between my work at DFO, Dipesh’s at Southgate, and the kids both taking the tram to school, we don’t really have too much reason to leave Southbank,” she said.

“We have built our entire lives around Southbank, and don’t see any reason to move.” •

To find out more about Dream City, visit dreamcity.com.au

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