“Kids Seeing the Orange Shirts Already Loved us Before they met us”

Wiradjuri woman, Redfern community member and mother of four Angela Coe is one of the latest skilled volunteers who participated on NASCA’s Remote Northern Territory Program.  She headed to Ali Curung, a community four hours drive North of Alice Springs that she admits she “had to google, because I’d never heard of it before.”

Being a proud Aboriginal woman meant Angela grew up acknowledging and knowing the value of her own cultural heritage and the importance of transferring this to the next generation – “We go home to Cowra (Central New South Wales) quite a lot to the 32 acres on a hill above a river.  It’s important my kids connect to country and know their history and where they’re from”.  She says that Australia-wide healthy Aboriginal people and communities have one thing in common: a strong cultural identity;  “It’s important for us to know where we’re from and who we are… It’s important for Aboriginal people to have ownership of their own culture in their own communities.”

Angela acknowledges the multicultural nature of Indigenous Australia and the diversity of issues, traditions and overall demographics across these communities.  This equipped her to work consultatively within Ali Curung where as a Registered Midwife, and proud Mother and Aunty she was an immediate magnet to the community’s mothers, kids and babies. “Getting passed little babies all the time was a very humbling experience.  There’s a real interest and connection from mums and kids in Aboriginal people from other areas”.   Of the school-aged kids she worked with throughout the week she said “They’re so happy, they’re a joy to be around. I can see why people go remote and never leave.”

Upon arrival in Ali Curung Angela got a sense of NASCA’s previous work in the community with the way everyone reacted to the sight of NASCA’s iconic orange shirts. “Once kids saw the orange shirts they loved us, when the kids see the orange shirts they know it’s gonna be non-stop fun for the whole week.”   The following week saw the school’s limited resources extended with the inclusion of Angela, her NASCA team leader Amy and two other volunteers assisting with in-class support as well as designing additional programs for the kids.

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All programs NASCA delivers within the school are planned with the assistance of the school and community and the fact that NASCA returns to each community multiple times a year means the programs can be built on from one program to the next.  The skills of each of NASCA’s volunteers dictate the community in which they are selected to, coupled with the needs of the community.  Each one-week program, like the one in Ali Curung, forms a bigger long-term picture to add to the strengths and ambitions of the community whilst revolving around building the capacity of the school students in and out of the school environment.  Structured sporting sessions, nutrition and hydration lessons, science and growing a vegetable garden are just some of the activities NASCA has assisted in introducing to Ali Curung since working there from mid 2015.

 

Located on Kaytete and Alyawarr country, Ali Curung has many unique qualities.  It’s name derives from the local word for ‘Dog Dreaming’ and as a result the dogs in the community are treated with a level of reverence.  There are also a number of successful community-led initiatives which harness the existing strengths of the area and its people including the Families as First Teachers (FaFT) Program which Angela saw as an essential means of engaging local families to actively involve the education of the students being done in a culturally appropriate manner.   Angela says “It’s sad that many Aboriginal kids don’t get their culture and education hand-in-hand, they shouldn’t get one at the expense of the other.  If education doesn’t support culture it can be a lonely place”.

There are two main languages spoken in the community, those being Warlpiri and Alyawarr  as well as English generally as a third language.  Students are mostly taught in English with the close support of Teacher’s Aides; local people in the classroom who assist the interpreting process and provide a cultural bridge between teachers and students. Angela remarked that from her perspective “The teachers and students really valued and respected the teacher’s aides. Seeing the students’ culture and language valued in the classroom was really necessary for their development”.  She added that in her experience “Language is a necessary option for kids and adds to the importance of their identity. Seeing it as being a part of this school was really positive”.

Angela was also afforded the opportunity to learn some of the community’s cultural knowledge from local Elders, despite only being there one week. In turn Angela talked to the young people about the world she came from.  She said “Going into people’s community it was important to appreciate their connection to country” and on the flip-side “It’s good to be an Aboriginal woman living and working in an urban environment.  Also showing kids there’s opportunities out there, having lots of different experiences is important.”  She realised the young people of Ali Curung held great ambitions for their future that included taking in other cultures outside of their own but that being isolated from the cultural connection home was never an option.  “One girl told me she went to boarding school in Melbourne and the isolation was really hard.  it can really affect people if they’re not supported to maintain that connectedness back home.”

NASCA maintains that while supporting Aboriginal people in a predominantly Western school setting is necessary, that maintaining pride in one’s Aboriginality is as important for personal and community development. “That’s something NASCA does well.  They go onto country and work with the people on their own country. And they support kids to be proud of their identity which is so important, once we lose that we won’t get it back.”  When Angela was asked whether she would recommend the experience for others with skills and a passion for Aboriginal culture and education she said emphatically “Any opportunity to go into community and spend time with people is a wonderful experience.  You will feel blessed when you are welcomed into someone else’s country.”

 

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