Stef Maciulaitis, Senior Community Development Officer with the Local Drug Action Team (LDAT) program, and Peter Uzande, Community Development Lead for Northern LDAT, have been working together for the last year building protective factors amongst African-Australian families in the north of Melbourne.
The Northern LDAT has been running a successful homework club, helping young people with their grades but ultimately increasing family and community connections.
I have just celebrated my seven-year anniversary at the ADF. I’m also studying, I’m halfway through my Master of Human Services.
What can I say about Peter? He’s just so cool! If you meet him and get to chat with him, you would see what I mean. He’s the nicest person ever and his passion is amazing. He’s involved in so many organisations and projects.
When the LDAT program started, there were only two program delivery staff - my colleague Tapuwa and myself. He’s from Zimbabwe and has a lot of contacts in the Melbourne African community. Tapuwa was the one who encouraged Peter to apply for the LDAT program. Good Sports held a Tackling Illegal Drugs forum in Whittlesea mid-2018 and I first met Peter there.
The Northern LDAT is the first intercultural LDAT I have worked with. It’s perfect because they are so fantastic. I feel like I am learning more from them, than they are from me!
Getting to meet people like Peter is what I love about my job. There are many ‘Peters’ across many LDATs, who really care and dedicate themselves to the work. The LDAT program is great because it’s community led, which I think makes it special and more impactful. We are there for the journey with the community.
Peter believes there is hope and opportunities for all African people in Australia, acknowledging the challenges that come from migrating. There’s stigma that African people face in Australia, perpetuated by media. For Peter, the LDAT is an opportunity to address that.
What schools offer here is not the same as the Horn of Africa region where all sport and recreation is included. Extra curriculars in Australia must be paid for by parents, creating financial barriers for families.
The Fundi Homework Club is trying to address disconnection between parents and children. These kids are being raised in Australia and the parents have had completely different experiences growing up. Obviously, the homework club can help with grades, but it also increases communication between generations.
In the two and a half years I have been supporting LDATs, I have never seen a project have significant impact in such a short space of time. Social connections for families, introductions to the world and resources of libraries, improvements in student grades, a safe space for families, and lots of smiles.
I’m a local - I live in Whittlesea with my partner and two children. My eldest is 20 and I’ve got a little one as well, who is six years old.
I’ve been working in various African-Australian communities since 2012 in projects such as the African Australian Communities Leadership Forum which engages government on issues affecting African-Australians.
Stef has a great temperament – she’s got that calmness. She never makes anyone feel pressured or rushed. We’re on the same time zone. Any time we have problems, Stef’s quick to respond. She’ll call up and say, “How’s it going? Is everything running smoothly?” She is always giving us information and support when we need it. She’s got drive and is just a wonderful person to work with.
My favourite thing about the work we do is the young people turning up and stepping into that library. They have an appreciation of what they’ve been offered. Them wanting to participate is the biggest thing for me. Working with the ADF helps us greatly – the support we receive means a lot.
At the Fundi Homework Club, we currently have around seven volunteers who are university lecturers, university students and retirees. It’s a mix of age groups, which is how we like it. The older VCE students are more than happy to help the younger kids and everyone gets involved.
“The African word Fundo means learn – we called it this to promote engagement in education, social connections, friendships and development of talents and interests.”
The parents are very engaged. The feedback we hear is “we’ve always gone past but never entered the library”. Now, they’re borrowing books and using the resources.
The homework club has reduced tensions and stress at home. You find that for most of these families, the parents were not educated in Australia. They are not aware of the Australian education system and it means that they are incapacitated in terms of involvement with their children’s learning.
Parents felt like they had to study to better help their children. They would think “I don’t want my child to think I’m not good enough to help them”. I know some parents would even be having a glass or two of wine because this was so traumatic. Now they can relax because they know their kids are getting help.
We also help students with online learner driver permit tests, we have guest speakers from universities, we arrange family days so families can use the time to connect and engage. We have a holistic approach to support the health and wellbeing of students. Our indoor soccer program is open to kids not in the homework club as well and we use it as a hook to get more of them in. When they come for soccer, we ask “How’s your homework?”
I want to help the students with the racism they experience. The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission is coming to talk to them about what racism is and how to deal with it. Before exams, the older students will have a mental health first aid workshop on how to deal with stress and pressure. I want to arm them with relevant skills and knowledge. I hope to empower them.
Northern Local Drug Action Team partners include Mental Health and Wellbeing Foundation, African Australian Welfare Bureau Inc., University of the Third Age, City of Whittlesea, Centre for Multicultural Youth, La Trobe University, Whittlesea Community Leadership Network and Rotary Club.
To read more articles like this one – take a look at the 2018-2019 Annual Report.