Over the 2010/11 summer we were recruited by CAYLUS to spend two months in the remote Barkly community of Ampilatawatja , about 350km north east of Alice springs. It’s on the way to Mt Isa if you take the back roads from Alice.
It was an extended stay. Previously, we would only be assigned to do our youth development programs over just the school holiday periods in various communities of the Pitjantjatjara lands. This time, we decided to take a break from there to explore new relationships and possibilities in different country and indeed, a different indigenous nation. Shon had previously spent two weeks teaching drumming in the Ampilatwatja school with the CAAMA M.A.D for life project in 2007, so a connection had already been established.
The opportunity of working beyond the school holiday period really appealed to us as we were able to help make the transition to school a little easier for the kids by being there for them. We counted down the days till school started and encouraged the kids to go and grow their young minds and continue to learn new and wonderful things about our world . Then, as the school year began, we continued our drumming and general music workshops at school and ran games and sports after school. School attendance , so far, this year has been good!
The Alyawarra youth are gentle and enthusiastic. During the summer holiday period, however, we focused on providing a holistic program incorporating structured educational activities; arts and craft, reading, sport and games, cooking and nutrition programs, fun community events, group drumming, band rehearsals and music tuition, movie nights and of course the much loved weekly disco!
We conduct each of these activities with a structure that leads to outcomes. For instance, we made a giant compass and explored geometric design on a large piece of calico. This became a giant painted mandala in which many young people contributed their designs and painting skills. Young people are encouraged by us to follow through on projects and to try to stay focused for as long as they can. Over time, the benefits and outcomes become apparent both to the youth and the wider community, and are enjoyed and appreciated. Quiet painting time during the heat of the day proved popular. Without a youth shed as such and no air-con on searing hot summer days, this activity, set up in the shade of the basketball court, offered us time to hang out, share stories and develop our creative minds.
Our cooking and nutrition afternoons once a week were very popular. The aim of this activity is to teach a team of young women and kids how to prepare healthy food for large groups of people. We cater to feed approximately 60 people for each session. We make sure that all of the ingredients are readily available from the community store and we try to introduce new and exciting dishes (African chicken stew!) as well as teach old favourites (spaghetti bolognaise). Once the dishes are prepared, we sell the meals for a token price at our movie nights in order to buy ingredients for the next weeks’ cooking program. One day, we hope that some of these young women with this experience may be able to gain employment cooking for the Aged and Disabled Care Centre and/or be able to cook for large family occasions.
Our drumming sessions are always popular and we would set up under a shady on the side of the oval in the late afternoons while all sorts of sport would be happening at the same time. This created a festival atmosphere and we discovered some very talented young women who displayed a very natural aptitude for rhythm! This is unusual for us as we mostly attract young males to our drumming sessions on other communities.
All in all, we had a wonderful summer. We made some great relationships with the youth and community of Ampilatwatja and we were very happy to return for another period only 4 weeks later. We taught rhythm in the school every day and continued our general sport and games sessions after school and into the evenings.
The enthusiasm for drumming was so great that we organized a community concert on our last Friday evening with a BBQ cook-up and disco to follow. Parents and family were invited to come and watch the kids perform, and we had about a hundred people come to celebrate these young kids’ achievements, enjoy home-made burgers with them and stay for a rollicking good disco!