Ahead of NAIDOC Week, Julia Hosking profiles a Salvation Army Crossroads program that is walking the talk of reconciliation.
Early last year, Helen Spriggs was struggling through TAFE. She was rarely attending and starting to fail her subjects. Through a family connection, she decided to reach out to a worker from The Salvation Army’s Crossroads Network (Vic.) for help.
A young Indigenous woman, Helen was invited to participate in ‘Give It A Go’, a six-week program run by Crossroads’ Indigenous Youth and Families program for Indigenous young people aged up to 25. She accepted and, a year later, Helen’s life has direction, hope and dreams.
‘Give It A Go motivated me to go back to TAFE,’ she says. ‘I’m currently doing my Cert. 4 in Community Service and Youth Work and my Cert. 3 in Child Services. I’ve seen the workers at Give It A Go helping the Indigenous community and the program made me want to work more towards doing something in our community.
‘I actually want to start up my own youth centre for the Indigenous mob; to be able to have a space of our own. I think it’s important for us to have somewhere where we can go and be free in our culture. It’d be awesome to have something like that.’
P ROV I D I N G O P P O R T U N I T I E S
The Salvation Army’s Crossroads Network works to integrate its programs to offer holistic care to individuals and families. The Indigenous Youth and Families program—which provides Give It A Go—emerged in response to the needs of the Indigenous community in the Victorian local government area of Hume.
As is the situation with Indigenous communities around Australia, Hume’s Indigenous population has low employment rates. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reports that in 2008, across the country, 59% of the male Indigenous workforce-aged population was in employment, compared with 85% for other male Australians; for women, the numbers are 42% and 69%, respectively.
‘Consequently, Indigenous community members in Hume are in less than optimum housing, they are regularly crowded or overcrowded and are unable to purchase or rent in the private sector,’ explains Robyn Kennedy (senior manager, Youth and Community Recovery Services, Crossroads).
‘Many Indigenous young people are out of school and have no support to get back in or to find alternative activities for them-selves. Indigenous community members in Hume and across Australia have had mixed engagement with education. It can be challenging for young people to aspire to be part of an education system that has not been supportive of them or their elders and family members.’
In response to these identified needs, Crossroads launched Give It A Go in late 2012, supported by local Indigenous elders. The Wandarra Indigenous elders group in Hume regularly meets with the Indigenous Youth and Families team to ensure their activities are appropriate for the Indigenous community.
Throughout the program, participants visit the Hume Indigenous Garden where they meet with elders and spend time yarning and painting. Subsequent weeks may offer visits to Bunjilaka at the Melbourne Museum, the National Sports Museum at the MCG, and a Koorie Heritage Walk in the parks of Melbourne.
Partnerships in the community have also helped Crossroads offer financial literacy training thanks to Lentara UnitingCare, diabetes education thanks to Diabetes Australia and first aid training thanks to the Red Cross, as well as resume-writing workshops and coffee barista certifications.
‘Pretty much all of the programs were good for me,’ says Helen. ‘I was able to learn more about my culture and be more proud of who I am. The elders taught us how to properly paint on the rocks and how to use ochre, and the coffee barista course was good because we got a certificate so I could go and apply for a job at Maccas or Donut King.’
As was the case for Helen, the variety of activities has led to many positive impacts on the 100 young people who’ve completed Give It A Go.
‘We’ve had young clients who have gone on to university study, others have chosen to seek support to go back to school and some have been able to obtain their driver’s licences,’ says Robyn.
‘We have also provided opportunities for Indigenous students on placement for their TAFE courses so their experience can be broader than Indigenous community organisations. This has been very successful. At present, we have a TAFE student in our program supporting Give It A Go and the young people attending,’ she continues. ‘As a member of the Hume Indigenous community, he will also provide links with Indigenous young people in the community and our program. It’s an opportunity for him to strengthen his skills through working with and observing our case managers, and for us to ensure our practice is appropriate.’
These positive changes in young lives strongly connect to The Salvation Army’s mission intentions.
‘We attempt to reform society through our advocacy. We recently gave a presentation at a Hume Middle Years Conference about our work in the hope that other agencies and individuals will learn from our experience about how to engage with members of the Indigenous community,’ says Robyn.
‘We also care for others, Indigenous and non- Indigenous, and we certainly have an impact in the lives of those in our programs. I believe for every person who has a positive experience of us and our program, the impact will be far-reaching and will continue throughout those participants’ lives.’
T OWA R D R E C ONC I L I AT ION
In February 2008, then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivered
a long-awaited national apology to the Stolen Generations. Building on this, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) set targets to improve the lives of Indigenous Australians in an initiative called ‘Closing the Gap’.
Targets included closing the life-expectancy gap within a generation (life expectancy for Indigenous Australians born in 2010–2012 is lower than the non-Indigenous population by approximately 10.6 years for males and 9.5 years for females), halving the gap in Indigenous year 12 achievement by 2020 (in 2008, 31% of young Indigenous people aged 20–24 had attained Year 12 compared with 76% of non-Indigenous counterparts) and halving the gap in employment outcomes within a decade.*
‘Give It A Go contributes to “closing the gap” in education and employment, and in improv-ing the wellbeing of Indigenous young people and their families and carers,’ says Robyn.
‘Our hope is that Indigenous community members know we value them and respect their culture,’ she continues. ‘We acknowledge their poor position in the Australian community and want to work with the Indigenous community to close the gap. We are hopeful and optimistic that we do contribute and we do change lives, even in some small way.’
Later this month, Australia will recognise National Sorry Day (26 May) and remember the hard-ship of the Stolen Generations. This is followed by National Reconciliation Week, from 27 May to 3 June, which commemorates two significant milestones in the reconciliation journey—the anniversaries of the successful 1967 referendum and the High Court Mabo decision.
This year’s theme for Reconciliation Week is ‘Walk the Talk’, calling people to actively get involved in the reconciliation journey. ‘Our program is doing exactly that: walking the talk,’ says Robyn. ‘We are demonstrating our values in all that we do and advocating for others to join us or do similar good work.’
Helen believes conversation is important, but, as the theme suggests, she is also highly aware of the need for genuine action.
‘Wider Australia needs to be able to keep talking with the community, and working with them. It’s going to take a long time [to achieve reconciliation], but we’ll get there eventually,’ she says.
‘They say education is important, yet the government closed my Koorie school down. They didn’t see it working and didn’t want it open, which I found pretty unfair. They were saying sorry for the Stolen Generations, and sure, they weren’t taking a person from us, but they were taking our education. They were taking our culture again. Things like that could have been done differently.
‘The more programs we have out there [such as Give It A Go] that can guide us onto a better path and be there to support us, the more of us will benefit and move forward, instead of staying in the past.’
*Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2013 | Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2011