COVID-19 results in new ways of working with Indigenous young people in remote communities

NAIDOC Week 2020 – ‘Always was, always will be’

To celebrate NAIDOC Week 2020, the Public Health Association of Australia is publishing a series of articles, capturing the learnings and lessons from presentations at our recent Australian Public Health Conference. Given the year we have had, not surprisingly, the response to the COVID-19 pandemic dominated much of our 2020 conference. We hope you enjoy these articles which strongly focus on sharing information, building resilience and keeping First Nations people safe throughout the pandemic.

 

Most working Australians have learned during 2020 that what is our normal way of working has had to change. This was certainly the case for those working in the remote Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (NPY) lands which straddle South Australia, New South Wales and the Northern Territory.

Christine Williamson is Youth Service Manager for the NPY Women’s Council, the major provider of human services in the NPY region which employs more than 70 staff to support service delivery across a vast area.

According to Christine, the arrival of COVID-19 quickly impacted on the service delivery of youth programs, as staff were unable to travel into the communities which were effectively locked down to keep the locals safe and pandemic free.

‘We went from delivering youth programs directly into 13 remote communities to a one-on-one approach using an action learning model,’ Christine said. ‘Our biggest risk was to do nothing.’

A three-stage process was adopted to quickly develop a new way of supporting young people in the NPY lands.

‘We started by observing and gaining knowledge; gathering and collecting information. Next, we listened, reflected and made sense of the information before we brainstormed ideas and assigned roles for staff. Finally, we acted on the decisions, determined the priorities, scoped out projects and set budgets and created working groups to support the delivery.’

Over a period of six weeks, a new program of COVID-safe activities was developed to keep the youth of the NPY lands engaged. These included virtual movie nights (some of the films were shot within communities), online competitions, op-shops conducted out of vehicles, mental health advocacy, and 90 pushbikes purchased and distributed into the remote communities for a bike borrowing program.

‘We learned quickly that to be effective we didn’t need to be physically present,’ Christine said. ‘We could actually reach a more diverse range of people by being more innovative, including people who wouldn’t normally physically come along to our programs.

‘We have had plenty of learnings and for me it’s been how resilient, committed and creative our staff can be.

‘If you’re going to have a pandemic, this is the team to have a pandemic with.’

 

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