Exploring culture in Salvos youth resilience and leadership program
10 November 2020
The 2020 NAIDOC Week theme - ‘Always Was, Always Will Be’ - recognises that First Nations people have occupied and cared for the Australian continent for over 65,000 years and will continue to do so far into the future. Celebrating aspects of this rich and enduring culture is just one of the elements in a successful Salvos youth program based in Townsville.
Connecting more deeply with culture is one of four key focus areas of focus for The Salvation Army’s ‘Leadership and Resilience Program’, which began in 2015. Running annually, the program also works to build leadership and resilience in the areas of health and wellbeing, relationships, education and employability for young Indigenous men, aged 14 to 15 years.
“Our hope is to see kids complete school and become employable, says Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Coordinator and Youth Specialist, Terrence Whyte. “We are [also] working to do our part to close the gap.”
“When we engage with young people, we also engage with their family and connect them to Elders and services in the community. This type of networking can build resilience [too].”
As well as using rugby league as an engagement tool, cultural aspects of the program include yarning with cultural and community Elders, dancing, a smoking ceremony and promoting cultural safety.
“Cultural values can enrich a young person’s life,” Terrence says.
“You see in the 2020 NAIDOC theme that there always was a connection to community, connection to country, connection to culture, connection to spirit and there always will be that connection.
“Getting back to those cultural values, getting back to those cultural connections, remembering cultural ceremonies are so important for young people to understand their cultural identity. It also helps them on the path of caring for country and caring for people.”
To date, the program has been highly successful with only five out of 125 participants not completing school and many going on to jobs and even leadership roles.
“Because they have to show 90 per cent school attendance while engaged in our program, I’ve seen students pick up their attendance rate from 40 per cent,” says Terrence.
And, although Rugby League was initially seen as the ‘hook’ to engage the young men, eight program participants have since been offered school scholarships for a Brisbane based rugby league school. Others have gone on to represent the Queensland Murri team.
“The other thing we didn’t anticipate, but we have seen the benefit of, is these young fellas also engage in prayer, each time they take the field and when we’re having meals. We have had a couple strong in faith and they take it upon themselves to lead in prayer.”
Peer learning is an important part of the program and Terrence says the program also impacts many more than the 25 chosen participants each year, with a wide flow-on into families and the wider school community. It has also become a program many younger students aspire to join.
“Obviously we can’t take everybody – there are 25 spots for the program – and we are careful to invite a mix of program participants, some that already have great leadership qualities, those that have potential to develop leadership qualities and those that need to follow a new path,” Terrence says.
“When we first engaged with the first 25, the feedback was ‘we went away as friends, we returned as brothers’. They all came back to their community, spoke to their peers, their brothers, cousins, friends, about their experiences.
“What we have seen, as a bonus, is that as the younger ones are preparing themselves to apply for the program [they increase their school attendance]. They don’t realise they have already started their own leadership and resilience journey, whether they then take part in the program or not.”
*Unfortunately, the 2020 program had to be cancelled due to travel restrictions and COVID risks, but plans are well underway for 2021.