Our Educators are at the very core of the Life Education program and this chat with Deb goes a long way to making us realise why they do what they do, so well.
How long have you been with Life Education and in what capacity?
I started with Life Education as an Educator in 2006, working in regional areas of New South Wales. I moved to the Northern Territory in July 2012 and now work in the capacity of both Educator and Executive Officer.
Can you tell us about your day-to-day role, particularly the work you do working with indigenous communities?
My title of ‘Remote Educator’ couldn’t be closer to the truth… I often travel right out into the bush, as far as 700 kilometres from Darwin. Last year I spent 180 days on the road and this year I expect that number to grow to more than 200.
I stay in remote communities, visit schools and work with children, teachers and other staff, running programs for children aged between 3 and 16. I deliver Life Education’s program either in school classrooms, outside in the school grounds or in any suitable area. Last year I saw over 5,000 children, visiting 20 different communities as well as regional schools in Alice Springs, Katherine and Tennant Creek.
Suzi, my colleague, works in the Darwin and Palmerston region and last year saw 11,500 children in schools across the region … her timetable is definitely full!!!
As NT runs primarily on the wet and dry season most remote locations are only accessible from April through to October. Therefore the bulk of remote delivery happens in terms two and three each year.
How, if at all, is the standard Life Education program and/or delivery modified because of your location?
For some remote indigenous communities, programs are modified due to language barriers. I work with local assistant teachers who help interpret where language becomes an issue.
Some content may also have to be modified due to cultural sensitivities. In some cases, there is a need to seek permission from traditional owners and elders to present certain content to the community.
What feedback do you receive from communities?
Like children all over Australia, NT kids love Harold, He is definitely the highlight. Sometimes older children even dress up as Big Harold, our full size mascot, and get involved in community sport or middle school students are invited to ‘operate’ the Harold puppet to engage the younger kids. All the students are very affectionate towards Harold… plenty of hugs, tickles and scratches and talk to him and pretend that he talks back. In some cases they say that Harold talks to them ‘in language’!
The program is generally well received, but I always have to work hard to gain the trust and respect of communities we visit. I often attend local events or activities out of hours to consistently engage with families in the community and give Life Education a face outside of school hours. A little effort to attend a community sport event, jump in the Harold suit and play a game of footy or basketball or help out at a BBQ can go along way.
One community, Gapuwiyak, has been sufficiently impressed with our program that they’ve invited me back to run a specific program for adults in the community. In this case, I will work alongside local community services like the police and health clinic, to ensure the messages are correct and consistent with other services provided.
What impact does the Life Education program have on these communities?
I really find that the program delivers health messages in a fun and engaging way that increases their impact and also increases attendance at school.
What are the challenges in your role?
Every day is different. All communities are different and I need to be very flexible and adaptable at all times. For example, I might drive 500kms to a school, only to find when I get there that there’s ‘sorry business’ in the community - (when someone passes away). If so, I generally will leave out of respect and the school is closed. You might be caught out by the weather or miss the tide at a river crossing so you sit it out and wait until it's safe to cross.
Life on the road has its challenges. You have to be pretty handy at changing a tyre, happy to listen to your own singing and enjoy the outback scenery. Often I can drive for hours and all I will see are a few buffalo and a stray donkey :)
But it’s all part of the adventure and arriving at a community being greeted by friendly faces, little characters and working alongside dedicated teachers committed to making a difference makes any challenge worth it!
What are your plans for 2017?
Well this year marks the 30th anniversary of Life Education in the Territory, so we plan to visit 30 different communities - one for every year.
I plan to build a community profile prior to each visit and that means working with the elders to ensure all relevant issues in each community are covered when I visit. I want to gather more video testimonials and evaluations of the program this year... and I’d like to team up more often with other community services and not for profits, visiting the communities together, thereby increasing the overall benefit of each visit to these communities.
Why do you do what you do?
That’s easy… I love it! I have a passion for educating in rural and remote areas and honestly believe I learn just as much! I would definitely encourage anyone to work remotely if they get the chance.
Probably the best part about the job is talking to bush kids about their dreams and aspirations for the future. Empowering them with life skills and knowledge and encouraging them and letting them know that anything is possible!