Family Planning Queensland has launched a book program as part of its Wellness and Wellbeing project using the stories of Rockhampton’s Indigenous children.
In the past year, the Rockhampton based Wellness and Wellbeing project educated 39 Indigenous students from three state government primary schools on issues around sexuality and personal safety.
This led to the publication of the My Safe Place book, featuring the students’ stories and produced with the help of Indigenous elder and author Nhaya Nyoka and other Family Planning Queensland staff.
The book has now been distributed to families, and school and government organisations within the Rockhampton local government area.
Wellness and Wellbeing Regional Coordinator Megan Wyland believes the program and the book will be instrumental in teaching others students about sexuality in a safe environment.
“We are committed to providing education to all children about sexuality and to the prevention of childhood sexual abuse,” Ms Wyland said.
“This current project is particularly important as we are dealing with vulnerable children who may not feel that they have an outlet or a protected place to express their concerns or curiosities.”
The program utilises traditional Indigenous culture and art therapy as tools to educate students about rules relating to touch and issues regarding personal safety and cyber security.
“By facilitating narrative sessions with the children, we were able to create stories and art works about what they describe as their safe place,” Ms Wyland said.
“This provided the children with the opportunity to express themselves and apply the lessons learnt through the program in a creative manner.”
The lessons were developed with the assistance of specially trained QFP staff and input from Indigenous elder Nhaya Nyoka.
Nhaya Nyoka was responsible for translating the messages of the project into the local Darumbal language and believes this provided the children with a deeper understanding of their cultural identity
“For the first time, many of the children learnt about their ancestors and where their family is from. It provides them with a sense of belonging,” Mrs Nyoka said.
“Although not all of the children are Darumbal, they can go home and talk to their families and find out more about their heritage. It allows them to have conversations with their families including aunties, uncles, grandparents and cousins that they may not have been able to have before the program.”
Many of the stories featured in the book describe the children’s connection to the land and the impact it has on their understanding of personal safety.
Student participator Jack, 11, said his understanding of his “safe place” is based on his personal connection to the bush.
“I like the malgadu (bush) because it’s peaceful. I feel bimbi (good/safe) at yaamba (home), but in the malguda its yadda (quiet), there’s not nguranh bayibi yila (many people around)”.
“In the city, it’s noisy (inda galangal imbabi (you can hear) people yelling and fighting. It’s like the streets are screaming.”
The children’s stories are accompanied by their own original art work, with local Indigenous artist Caroline Cox assisting the children in their creations. Ms Cox said she found it to be a rewarding experience for the children and for herself.
“The children were asked to produce art work of places, feelings and thoughts that made them feel safe. I engaged the children in knowledge about shapes, objects, colour and various art tools and resources that could be used to create their artwork,” Ms Cox said.
“Each session over the term was refreshing and full of laughter. I feel that helping to create a connection between story, traditional language and image is something very valuable and I am always willing to be involved in.”
While the program’s participants and facilitators found the process rewarding, there has also been a positive impact on the families of the children involved.
“One of the best things we have seen come from the program is the increased involvement of parents and care givers in the children’s schooling and education,” Mrs Nyoka said.
“Many of the parents told me that before the introduction of the program, they did not feel comfortable coming to the children’s school but now they feel much more welcome and able to be involved in their child’s education.”
Regional Education Coordinator for Family Planning Queensland Bronwyn Gibbins-White said that the book is a celebration of cultural identity for Indigenous children while highlighting the need for personal safety within their communities.
“The enthusiastic efforts of the children, all of the Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander descent, were truly inspiring throughout the compilation process of My Safe Place,” Ms Gibbins-White said.
“The book is designed to be shared amongst families to celebrate and promote wellness and well-being and is a reminder of every child’s right to be proud and safe.”
FPQ hopes to hire an IT technician to create a free-to-download version of the book.
“The release of the book in app form will make the material accessible to even more people and will hopefully make a difference in Indigenous communities all over Australia,” Ms Wyland said.