The Power of Resilience beyond numbers: On-Country Volunteering with Red Dust’s Healthy Living Program

We saw shy children blossom into confident performers, and we watched as young people grappled with complex cultural themes in a safe and supportive environment.

The Power of Resilience beyond numbers: On-Country Volunteering with Red Dust’s Healthy Living Program

As we stepped onto the rocky shores of Bathurst Island of Tiwi Islands (Wurrumiyanga), we were instantly transported to another world. One rich in culture, history, and community.

And soon after arriving at Xavier College, Wurrumiyanga,  what stuck out most was what could only be described as a sense of curiosity, warmth, enthusiasm from these young students. It was not the first time Red Dust had entered their world; the students’ warm familiarity was perhaps evidence of Red Dust’s previous impact in community.

We were there as part of Red Dust’s Healthy Living Program, a week-long immersive experience that aims to engage young people within remote communities and schools through health, sport, music and dance.

Wurrumiyanga (Tiwi Islands) is currently led by 32 members; four from each of the eight clan groups depicted above. So, we were absolutely honoured to learn that we’d be meeting and working alongside one of the Traditional Owners, Angelo Orsto who was incredibly generous throughout the week with his time, his attention and his knowledge of the land we shared.

On the surface, we were there to produce a music video but over the course of the week, we witnessed firsthand the transformative power of these grassroots programs and the resilience it builds in young people. We saw shy children blossom into confident performers, and we watched as young people grappled with complex cultural themes in a safe and supportive environment.

Resilience is more than just bouncing back from adversity. It’s about thriving in the face of challenges. It’s about having the confidence to pursue your dreams, even when the odds are stacked against you.

That’s exactly what we saw in the eyes of the young people on the Tiwi Islands. They are determined to create a better future for themselves and their communities.

The immeasurable ripple effect of resilience

The impact of the Red Dust program is far-reaching. It’s not just the young people who benefit from these programs. It’s also their families, their communities, and the country as a whole.

When resilience is nurtured in young people, it becomes a lifelong skill. They are more likely to make positive, ongoing contributions to their communities. They are more likely to stay in school, find employment, and lead healthy and fulfilling lives.

We started the week off with some percussion exercise, ‘what’s your favourite songs, let’s play them on the speakers and whack some bongo drums to a rhythm’! It was a fantastic opportunity for everyone to get involved and soon any mild apprehension was gone.

Except for two boys in particular, who were your typical back of the classroom types, either too shy or embarrassed to participate or quite simply wasn’t for them. But then we moved to brainstorming some lyrics, wrote the NAIDOC theme ‘For Our Elders’ up on the board and encouraged the kids to share their ideas about their Elders. Still not a lot of enthusiasm from these two boys, but to their credit, two indigenous leaders pulled them aside and suggested a rap verse to which their eyes lit up and they couldn’t stop blurting out bars of lyrics to a basic soundtrack that was playing for inspiration.

Fast forward an hour, the boys stood up in front of their class and some strangers in Red Dust shirts and had a go at something they believe in! The beat came on, they started swaying with the rhythm and delivered the rap verse they’d written only moments ago. To see the pride in their performance and to walk away a little taller. That’s impact. The energy in the room was electric, enough to give you goosebumps!

The power of connection

Another important aspect of the Red Dust program is the focus on connection. Young people are given the opportunity to connect with each other, their teachers,mentors, and the broader community leaders

These connections are essential for building resilience. When young people feel supported and loved, they are more likely to overcome challenges and achieve their goals.

Another example was at the pointy end of production, we had recorded dozens of students singing and rapping the lyrics they’d written and the first group had actually left to film some of the first scenes. However, a few of us stayed back at school while some of the leaders started a discussion, in language, around the lyrics to the song and the direct or indirect meaning behind it. What followed was such a fascinatingly robust discussion about the purpose and meaning behind some of the lyrics and after long there were five distinct edits to the song lyrics that unequivocally had to be changed.

A few of us sat idle, waiting patiently for understanding as to why the changes were necessary while also acknowledging it wasn’t yet our place to understand the needs fully. But in time, our indigenous friends took the time to carefully explain the cultural implications for some of the lyrics being interpreted one way or another by members of their community and more importantly by neighbouring communities. 

Considerations of shame the young songwriters may unintentionally bring to the community and mitigation of clan conflict were largely at play here. Tensions dropped and the traditional Wurrumiyanga language was honoured in a way that would ensure everyone maintained their pride.

This experience showed us the importance of respecting Indigenous language, culture and traditions. It also showed us the power of music to connect people and to build resilience.

The importance of culture and identity

One of the things that impressed us most about the Red Dust program was its emphasis on culture and identity. Young people were encouraged to celebrate their heritage and to learn more about their traditional values and beliefs. It wasn’t about Red Dust and their crew of corporate volunteers ‘helping’ make a music video per se, it was about facilitating an inherent expression of the history, the culture and language that burns strong in this part of the country.

We saw firsthand the impact that this had on their self-confidence and sense of belonging. When young people feel connected to their culture, they are more likely to thrive in all areas of their lives.

Later in the week, Angelo brought us to a long beautiful beach about 15 minutes drive from the main street of town. We again were honoured to witness the kids delicately painting their faces before performing traditional Tiwi dances both in respect for their traditional culture and for the music video too of course!

It was a magical experience that brought everyone closer. The kids were so proud to share their culture with us as were we honoured to be a part of their personal development and creative story, the joy on their faces as they combined their traditional dance with whatever movements their music had inspired remains unforgettable.

The Small Change Big Change Story

Your small change is making a big change in the lives of young Australians, but the change remains at a grassroots level and that is important to remember. It is where real change happens. It is at the community level where we can make the biggest difference in the lives of young people.

Together we’ve now raised $2.6M for our charity partners. Just last quarter, your donations have helped us reach more than half a million young people across the country. Red Dust alone, have delivered 9 of their Healthy Living Programs within 8 remote communities that have helped reach 740 participants.

But it’s never been about the numbers. It’s unique experiences like these, that are happening as a result of your donations, that are leaving a lasting impact and a legacy of change.

When young people are resilient, they are more likely to make positive contributions to their societies. They are more likely to stay in school, find employment, and lead healthy and fulfilling lives. (Luthar, S. S., & Cicchetti, D., 2000)

When we support grassroots organisations like Red Dust, we are investing in the future of our country. We are investing in young people who have the potential to change the world.

So please, continue to support Small Change Big Change and our charity partners.

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The Power of Resilience beyond numbers: On-Country Volunteering with Red Dust’s Healthy Living Program