Humour, storytelling and role plays are part of an innovative Student Health and Wellbeing Ambassador Program initiated by the Norfolk Island Community Action Group LDAT.
Called SHAW UP (Student Health and Wellbeing) it helps students to be community changemakers by exploring what troubles or inspires them, and how to pursue their hopes and dreams. It builds young people’s understanding and confidence about health, including around alcohol and other drugs.
Karen Innes-Walker, Health and Wellbeing Coordinator for the Norfolk Island Health and Residential Aged Care Services, says that the LDAT’s Community Action Plan is about reaching Year 7 to 11 students to help them develop healthy behaviours.
Changing the culture
Karen explains that SHAW UP is aimed at long term cultural change on the island, which shares the same problems as elsewhere in Australia - with alcohol contributing to accidents, health issues and domestic violence.
“The program is not necessarily targeting those at risk but working with students who may be able to influence or protect their peers, to minimise harms from alcohol and other drugs. It’s also about helping them manage risky situations at parties or elsewhere.”
The LDAT engaged visiting facilitator and educator Pete Slattery to run the program, which involves peer support, mentoring and education. Initially, the LDAT’s focus was educational but Pete’s advice was to take a capacity-building approach.
“Kids can seek out information themselves. It’s better to work with them to build resilience and a stronger sense of self to help them make better decisions,” commented Karen.
Reaching all the community
Pete conducted a launch which was attended by parents, the President of the Council of Elders, the school principal, the medical superintendent, other agency staff and local police.
He ran sessions with the ambassadors, senior students and in the Health and Wellbeing office for local program supporters.
The LDAT worked closely with the local school to promote and coordinate the program and encourage young people to become involved. Most of the ambassadors put up their hands themselves, others were tapped on the shoulder, and some were motivated by their parents.
Karen’s hope is that the ambassadors will influence up to their parents as well as their peer group. They will eventually be the community’s decision makers who take a positive approach to having a good time. They’ll organise sports and other activities that are not reliant on alcohol.
The end result
The program will culminate in a graduation in August 2022, where Pete will build on what he has done to date.
For their graduation, the participants with the help of supporters are working on a range of projects about health and wellbeing including vaping.
The project has been promoted to the wider community through local radio, as well as ads and a column in the local newspaper. It’s been shared on Facebook and talked about in the school’s newsletter.
Karen’s vision is to run the program yearly. Those involved in the program say it has been a fun and positive experience which has given them a lot of belief in themselves and inspired them.
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Header image by Steve Daggar