This week I went to an event put on by the social workers association (AASW) during NAIDOC Week to highlight some of the work that is being done in and by various aboriginal communities. The highlight of the night for me was the screening of a DVD of a project focusing on building respect for aboriginal elders. I arrived a bit late (how unusual) and didn’t get all the details about the groups who were part of the organisation of the project, but the basic idea was a mentoring programme linking older people from both the city and remote communities with young aboriginal people from the city. The city folk travel and then camp with the remote folk in the bush for a few days. The first program was held in 2012, and it has been happening yearly since. The dvd we saw was produced from the first visit and camp near Coober Pedy, and is now on you tube (above). Although it is a bit longer than the clips I usually link here, it is really worth a look if you have time.
For me the things it had me thinking about were:
- The importance of relationships to creating change – the relationship between the organisers and the relationships that were built among those participating in the project
- The way respect comes from what we do and how we are in the world. It is not just something that we bestow on folk because they are ‘old’ or ‘important’ or something, it comes from making space for people to contribute to each other’s lives in a positive way. In the film the elders contributed to the well-being of the young people, they welcomed them, they were interested in them, they showed them special things, they loved them. They had a responsibility and they lived it. The young people blossomed in their presence, and in turn showed care, interest and attention to the elders in ways that made a difference in a kind of reciprocal way. It was deeply mutually respectful.
- The power of place. The impact of the desert on the young people was a big part of the experience. Perhaps this is partly the amazing qualities of that particular landscape, or perhaps it is the impact of nature and would be similar in another region too, but the big sky, the dry country, the colours, the flatness, the quiet, all seemed to be restoring to those who went.
- The power of doing something different. Going somewhere new. Meeting new people. Finding out about culture. Mixing things up. Getting out of the usual routine. This was really obvious for the city folk, but was also I suspect really important, in slightly different ways, for the folk from remote. Doing things that we don’t often do helps us to see ourselves in a different way, and helps us to be different, even just for a bit.
- The power of action, of doing what you can do. The organisers have made these camps happen, and have given folk a chance to build links across many miles of distance, and many differences in life experience. They have made a difference. The elders and the young people were open to each other, interested, and they made the experience happen too. One of the elders from remote put it really well when he said “I’m not a big talker… but I think your action, your life, is the one people look at”.
- Everyone has something to offer. One thing I loved in the film was the dancing – the kids were amazing dancers, and the old people too, in a different way. Seeing the dancing was a real reminder that we don’t know everything about anyone, and folk have talents that we don’t always see.