Personal story

WAY Up for young Aboriginal people in Whittlesea

Young people learn about Aboriginal culture

‘Building stronger families and safer communities in Whittlesea’ Local Drug Action Team has delivered the Way Up program. The program organises cultural activities for young Aboriginal people with connection to the City of Whittlesea, outside of Melbourne.

Young people learn about Aboriginal culture

Through the sharing of cultural knowledge and participation in Aboriginal culture, the program aimed to increase feelings of cultural knowledge and cultural connections within the lives of 10 to 17 year-olds. 

The program encompassed 10 weekly sessions over Term 4 2019 and early Term 1 2020. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the LDAT were unable to hold their intended camp for program participants in Term 2. 

However, the LDAT adapted elements of the camp by delivering two facilitated online workshops for program participants – one focused on basket weaving and the other on Wayapa Wurkk (earth mindfulness movement).

“The WAY Up program has provided a wonderful opportunity through a range of activities for Aboriginal youth in Whittlesea to connect to culture, which we know can prevent and protect people from a range of health-related harms,” reported Senior Community Development Officer at the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, Stefanie Maciulaitis.

“The LDAT must also be commended for adapting the WAY Up program and continuing to connect with the young people in the digital space throughout lockdown. They have been an absolute pleasure to support and learn from.”

Culture is key

The LDAT acknowledges that prevention is crucial to reducing the uptake of alcohol and other drugs in young people. While a common perception is that uptake occurs at around 16, 17 or 18 years of age, the reality is that for some young people it begins earlier.

Wittlesea basket weaving workshop

Many of the young people in the community have grown up to be ashamed of their culture and who they are, often without an understanding of what culture and cultural connection means to them.

Rex Taylor, Youth Development Officer leading the Aboriginal portfolio in the Youth Services team at City of Whittlesea, has seen the benefits the program has provided for participants.

“Keeping young people engaged and busy is key to preventing alcohol use. Culture is the best way to address prevention activities for young Aboriginal people and we know that connection to culture works,” said Rex.

“Working with Dardi Munwurro was fantastic as it helped us put a lot of what we already know about cultural connection into practice.”

Partnership with Dardi Munwurro

Dardi Munwurro delivers a range of family violence, healing and behaviour change programs and services, to break the cycle of intergenerational trauma in Aboriginal families and communities, by empowering and inspiring individuals to heal the past, acknowledge the present and create a positive vision for the future. 

“One of Dardi’s key strengths is engagement. This includes their openness to engage with other organisations in addition to the ways in which they engage with young people. They came to meetings with brilliant ideas and their willingness and ability to get kids to participate in the program was inspirational. Working with Dardi has inspired further skills and knowledge in my own role at City of Whittlesea,” said Rex.

Guidance from the Alcohol and Drug Foundation throughout the entire journey, from submitting the application to join the LDAT program all the way through to reporting on activities, was also highly valued by the LDAT.

WAY Up program had a big impact

The most significant outcome was the sense of pride the kids formed towards their culture. Through the weekly program, the young people learnt traditional dancing and historical knowledge. Participants were able to connect to their culture with the support from their peers, other adults and the facilitator. 

Wittlesea Aboriginal dancers

Overall, the activities increased young people’s confidence about their culture and a sense of pride. 

At the end of term, the participants were able to showcase their learnings by performing for their community in front of friends and family. LDAT members were approached and thanked by parents and other family members following the performance, some of whom advised “I don’t know how you got my kid to do this, but thank you”. 

“What I love most about my role at City of Whittlesea is connecting with the Aboriginal and wider community, particularly with the kids. I love hearing the kids’ ideas and having a laugh with them. Some of them are so smart (smarter than me!). I love being able to talk with them and encourage them to share their big ideas,” said Rex.

LDAT partners include City of Whittlesea (lead organisation), Dardi Munwurro, Victoria Police and YSAS. 

City of Whittlesea are also a key partner and strong supporter of the Northern LDAT. The Northern LDAT created and continue to deliver the Fundi Homework Club, a whole-of-family approach to increasing student school performance, increasing family connections and building social connections for African families in Whittlesea.

Young people learn about Aboriginal culture