I am just back from three days in Griffith, rural NSW. This trip was organised by Neville Dwyer, an incredible man who is the Director at a not-for-profit community-based child care service, the Dorothy Waide Centre for Early Learning, and Treasurer of Country Children’s Services. He is also a winner of the National Excellence in Teaching Award and runs many highly innovative programs aimed at connecting youth to learning and the community.
Neville invited me to work with local Indigenous teen girls on day one, with the local parent community during the evening, and with 170 primary-school-aged girls on day two. His aim?
All I want is the chance for these girls to have the power of positive light to shine on them and see that they are beautiful and worthwhile people — that they matter — to themselves, to their friends, to their family and to us as a community . . .
We all have the power to make change happen — whether we take that opportunity up is our choice, the challenge is to “dare to be exceptional” . . .
We are blessed to have around us people who can make a difference, who take the time to care, to be involved, to take up the challenge.
Young Indigenous girls do indeed need more people to make a difference, because:
- They are at high risk of becoming victims of racial and sexual harassment and violence.
- Educational outcomes for Indigenous children are substantially below that of non-Indigenous children.
- There are significant disparities in health and welfare between Indigenous and non-Indigenous children.
The trip was truly a career highlight. I felt incredibly humbled to have the opportunity to offer some powerful, positive messages. Feedback from the teen girls included:
You showed me I am beautiful, and I won’t care so much what others say. You taught me to believe in myself.
I loved meeting other people like me and speaking out.
Today was the best day, where we learnt how to treat friends and resolve fights without fighting.
It really touched me.
I should not try to grow up too quickly.
It showed me that not everyone is perfect, and it’s okay to be who we are.
I learnt about responsibility for my actions and the person within me.
I love that you care, and even though you were a stranger you have changed how I think about things and shown me that people do love me.
You made me feel like I can do more things in my life; I now understand the whole part of being a girl.
The day ended with me crying for joy and the girls lining up to be cuddled. A moment I will never forget was when one girl, who had sat looking frightened all day, yet listening intently, looked at me and asked, “Will you kiss me?” I gave her a kiss on the cheek, and we held each other and cried and laughed. Magic.
For the teachers, too, the day was profound:
Seeing the girls react so positively was fantastic. I learnt that the kids can write positive things about each other and be made to feel so confident.
Kathy McKenzie from Youth Off The Streets offered this insight into why it worked so well:
[The key was] positive reinforcement, respectfulness, positive strategies and conflict management.
The general consensus? We can and will dare to be different in the way we seek solutions for young women. The local newspaper, Area News, were very supportive. They ran a great article on the event: “We can solve teen girl crisis”. I want to finish by sharing the editor’s opinion piece here as he raises some excellent points: