Local engagement will always be a critical aspect of introducing programs into Indigenous communities. For many years, a number of programs have been directed at regions without significant community engagement. This has time and again proven to be unsuccessful.
In running my own business, Walking With Wisdom, one of the earliest lessons in engagement I learnt was the importance of asking communities what they wanted. Discussing community needs allowed me to tailor the delivery of the program to each group.
Working in communities around the country takes a great deal of consideration for the extreme cultural diversity that exists from one community to the next. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island communities have many different cultural sensitivities, each of which must be considered.
Of special significance is engagement with young Indigenous men. If these men feel vulnerable or feel like the terms are being dictated to them, engagement will be difficult.
Several years ago I was invited to a remote Kimberley community to work with young men who had disengaged from school and had come into contact with the law.
Upon arriving into the community, my first step was to engage with the elders and get their blessings to work on their Country.
After gaining their support, I met with the local assistant principal. ”Good luck,” he said, “these boys just don’t want to learn!”
Wow, never in all my travels had I come across people who didn’t want to learn. We’re human afterall, constantly seeking knowledge.
With a fiery tongue and nothing to lose, I replied, “maybe you don’t know how to teach.”
Up for the challenge, I met the 15 young fellas aged between 9 through to 16.
That night at the basketball court, I sat down in the shadows of a Boab tree and began to play my flutes. It was magical, and it seemed like the wind grabbed hold of the song as it washed across the entire community.
It wasn’t long before the inquisitive minds followed the sound. It was now 1am and all of sudden 20 odd young guys and girls had arrived. Everyone due to be coming bush with me was there. Something new, never heard before.
What’s that? How do you play it? Where does it come from? Where are you from?
These supposedly disengaged, disenfranchised nighttime shadow dancers were hungry to learn. The next morning at 9am all the boys were there in the back of the troop carrier and we headed bush.
Rather than a group of boys that were shut off from an ability to learn, I saw young men desperate for teaching and hungry to learn. Engagement is not an entitlement; it comes from trust and respect.
As we establish the GenerationOne VTEC model around Australia, we will be working hard to interact with each community to ensure we are meeting their needs. Delivering a service that empowers rather than disempowers.
For this model to be successful, our community members must feel that all cultural sensitivities are considered. As such, each VTEC must be able to demonstrate that it can deliver a service to meet the needs of the most marginalised jobseekers, allowing our people to feel they are being supported every step of the way.