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Making positive change in rural NSW

from YAPRap January 2007

by Peta Waller-Bryant

YAPA's recent Rural Youth Work Conference in Dubbo was a huge success. Over 100 participants got together on the grounds of The Lazy River Estate to network, teach and learn about each other's services around the state. Many services from rural areas around NSW presented about their programs and how they have affected their communities.

One of the major issues that services found in the young people they work with was a low self-worth. This low self-esteem was reported to have usually come from the lack of a supportive family background, low economic opportunities and general lack of positive re-enforcement in their lives. These communities regularly feel isolated in social networks, education and employment opportunities and often - general community pride. It was evident that many young people are growing up basically feeling like they are worthless

One of the ways to combat this problem was to work with them to highlight their skills and actively encourage them to develop these skills.

Lost and Found

One of the first workshops was from the Barnados men's group called Lost and Found. The program is called this as it brings together Indigenous young men who have been lost in the system and gives them a social and interactive support network to rely on.

Terry Hayek runs the program out of the Orana Far West centre, where the young men can find a group of people just like themselves - wanting to make change. The social network that Lost and Found provides gives them something they may not necessarily find at home and can identify with. This identification process is crucial, as if someone can identify with a positive role model, this works to show them what they can achieve and how they can do that.

The program also works to pinpoint and highlight the young people's pre-existing skills and interests to show them how they can utilise and develop them for the future. Terry showed a DVD that the group had made themselves about the program with training and equipment donated by Film Central. They wanted to get the message of the program 'out there' to other services. It was not only the exposure of the successful program to other services that was important, but also hard copy evidence of what great things they were all capable of.

Lost and Found also works to address some of the more common and destructive problems in the community like drug and alcohol abuse, unemployment and domestic violence with courses offered through the program. Two of these are anger management and parenting courses for the young fathers and those who find themselves in charge of younger relatives. The anger management classes with job network services can help these young men to find a job and continue to develop their skills within employment.

One of the important elements of the program that makes it so successful is that it utilises traditional Indigenous education systems - where the older members teach the younger men, and those younger still are taught by the middle group. This creates a sustainable and cyclical learning environment, allowing information to be passed on down generations while at the same time providing great role models.

Our Journey to Respect

Our Journey to Respect was another program presented at the conference. This program works with Indigenous young people who have had problems with violence and uses a series of activities to allow them to identify these problems. Once the young people have identified the issues, they then work to develop possible solutions and alternatives.

The participants can share how the identification of these problems makes them feel - being comfortable to share these feelings is important in giving the other members something to relate to, inspiring them to make change in their own lives.

The group provides a supportive environment through this process, encouraging freedom of honesty with each other. The young people are shown how to discover the implications of violence and where it may lead their relationships in the future.

A crucial element in both of these programs was the presence of an Aboriginal Elder throughout the process. This gave the young people the opportunity to learn about and understand their cultural identity, which is such an important element to grasp.

All services that used mentorship programs reported that this method is very effective in smaller communities especially, because the young role models are so well known. When anti-social behaviour is turned into positive character traits, this can lead to a sustainable positive cycle of change. Also, the reason that negative traits are being portrayed in the first place comes back to the lack of self worth in the community's young role models - they just don't realise the power they have over the attitudes of those that look up to them.

Another important part of all of these programs was connecting young people to their communities - encouraging intergenerational events and activities that benefit the community as a whole. This also places the young people not only as role models to just the young people, but valued members of a community.

All of these elements combine to influence sustainable change, giving young people of all backgrounds the opportunity to grow and develop in their society and feel like a crucial part of it - because they are. Giving young people the chance to know and realise what makes them important and what they can achieve in their role is an extremely effective way of achieving this.

These programs are crucial to support the young people in their communities and are very effective in doing so. Many similar services operate and succeed in bridging the gap between young people and the rest of their communities - without their support, many young people would be very disadvantaged in their situations without the full understanding of their potential skills and abilities.

Youth Action & Policy Association NSW Inc (Youth Action - previously YAPA) ABN 17 209 492 539
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