Today is Indigenous Literacy Day. A day to spread the word about improving literacy levels and opportunities for Indigenous children living in some of the most remote and isolated parts of our country. We need to raise awareness about the gap which exists in reading levels between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. With the help of others, we recently tried to make a difference in a small way and here’s our story.
Travel sometimes delivers the most unexpected rewards and experiences and that’s why we love it. Our trip to Central Australia gave our family (particularly AJ) an experience we won’t ever forget. We had the opportunity to visit an Indigenous community and AJ lists this along with a visit to another Indigenous community in Darwin as two of her highlights from the trip.
AJ loves children and hopes to work with them in the future. I had similar aspirations at her age and did work experience at a school and at Barnados with social work in mind. I somehow detoured into travel but I’m keen to support AJ in her pursuits. Given her interest in working with children I thought it would be wonderful if she could have a meaningful connection with Indigenous children. I feel in Sydney we are removed from the challenges faced by Indigenous communities in remote areas of Australia. Our trip proved educational and heartwarming.
COLLECTING THE GOODS
AJ asked her year group at school if they would help her in supporting the community we were to visit by providing warm clothes, books, stationery supplies, balls and other small items. They contributed so much to AJ’s project we had to ask Jetstar if they would donate additional luggage for our trip. Jetstar kindly donated another bag of luggage for our flight. Knowing the great divide in literacy levels between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians we were keen to take lots of books with us. We contacted our friends at Parragon Books and they amazingly provided two large boxes of books. We were overwhelmed by their generosity. The variety of books was perfect for the different aged children. We were so excited to visit the community and weren’t really sure what to expect.
The journey to the community was an experience in itself. The colours of the soil, the contrast of the blue sky and the ever-changing landscape kept us all mesmerised. I was dreading the drive on unsealed road but it was fantastic. We visited the first community with the assistance of the Mutitjulu Foundation. We did the 2.5hour drive from Yulara after rain. It proved an exhilarating experience driving around and through the muddy water left lying on the road. At times our wipers worked furiously to clear the water from our windscreen but as the water hit the roof there was no wiper to clear the sun roof!
Walking into a childcare centre and school in a remote community, even with donations, is a strange experience. We learnt that Indigenous people are shy by nature and for many in remote areas, English is their fifth or sixth language. They have many dialects they learn before English. Everyone seemed a little unsure. My blogging buddy Rebel, from Rebel Without a Pause, had told me that on a trip to Fiji an Instax camera was popular with the local children. I can’t thank Rebel enough for that piece of advice because when AJ took out her Instax camera the ice was broken. It was gorgeous to see the kids posing for photos and then walking around watching their picture emerge on the paper.
Even the workers at the childcare centre lined up to have their photos taken.
Once everyone was warmed up and friendly AJ handed out some of the books and items she had brought with her. I loved watching the little girl pictured below take her book and tightly tuck it under her arm.
The kids and staff were all so stimulated by the new resources. It was wonderful to see everyone getting stuck in right away. Puzzles were solved, sticker books were explored and books were read.
We had taken a packet of balloons as a last minute addition and we had so much fun batting the balloons to the kids and watching them catch them. The kids were incredibly co-ordinated and had a real thirst to learn. We could see the difference the right resources can make to providing a stimulating atmosphere for the kids and staff alike.
Whatever we drew on the board the kids copied.
I was amazed to arrive at this childcare centre in such a remote area of Central Australia and find that not only did the centre have ramp access but also a fully accessible bathroom with flip-down shower seat.
The other thing that struck us was that despite the remoteness of the community no-one stared or even took a second look at BJ in his wheelchair or seemed remotely concerned at any of his joyous sounds. It was an incredibly accepting environment.
We really didn’t want to leave the centre, it was so much fun playing with the kids and seeing them become comfortable with us all. Thanks to the generosity of Parragon Books we had more books than the childcare centre needed and the lovely Mandy from Mutitjulu Foundation organised for us to visit the primary school next door where we presented the rest of the books. The teachers were thrilled with the resources and gave AJ the opportunity to address the school kids. She had taken a laminated book she made about her life in Sydney. We figured living in the centre of Australia, far away from the ocean, they may be interested to know more about coastal life.
It’s hard to express what an exhilarating day this was for our family. We left with hearts overflowing with joy and feeling slightly more connected to our Indigenous culture. I can’t think of a greater way to connect AJ to Indigenous children.
We were so fortunate to have another opportunity to visit a community in Darwin. The community in Darwin had more resources and was in the heart of the city. There were similar challenges to the previous community but without the remote location.
The day we visited the community they were learning skills from Corrugated Iron, a performing arts group. We watched as the kids did acrobatic flips over tables and tried their hand at other skills.
AJ made a friend in the little boy above who was totally enthralled with her Instax camera.
AJ took his photo, then it was his turn to take a photo of Bapi, their pet snake – yes, you read right, a pet snake at the centre.
The passion of the staff at the centre was infectious. I asked the staff what they liked about working in the community and one of the girls said she couldn’t imagine working anywhere else because she loved getting to know the families.
We loved the messages in this centre, “Diversity is our strength” and the quote below.
Resources will help these kids reach their potential. We certainly could see they are keen to learn and absorbed information and experiences like sponges.
We understand not everyone can travel to a remote community but the Indigenous Literacy Foundation do great work with getting books to the communities that need it. Donations can be made here.
I also urge you, if you travel to Uluru, to drop off some books or warm clothes to the Mutitjulu Foundation, which is at the Voyages Resort. The staff will make sure it gets to families who need it. If everyone visiting dropped off something, imagine how many lives could change over time.
The motto of the Mutitjuli Foundation is, “Considering the riches you take away, why not leave a little something behind.” I think that’s a powerful message.
And now for the awards-style thank you speech!
This experience wouldn’t have been possible without lots of support. So a big thank you to –
Jetstar for giving us additional baggage allowance.
Parragon Books for the amazing donation of books.
Fuji Australia for donating the Instax camera and enough film so we could leave plenty of photos with the kids.
AJ’s classmates for supporting this project.
Mandy from the Mutitjulu Foundation deserves a big warm hug and thanks for helping us to connect and understand more about Indigenous culture and for answering my never-ending questions. Thanks also to Mandy and the Darwin crew for organising our visit there. And thanks for letting us clean off our hire car with a rather powerful gurney – that red mud was packed on!
To both communities for welcoming our visit.