Across Queensland, school chaplains are working within Indigenous communities, encouraging children and youth to stay closely connected to their native culture.
Biloela chaplains Nigel Krueger and Lyn Webb place a high priority on working closely with local elders to ignite an excitement in young people to learn more about their heritage.
They are helping children like Brendan*, who lives with his uncle and aunty after both his parents died. “It’s a very messy situation for him at home, and you wonder how he’s been able to go through all that and come through the other end,” says Nigel, Biloela State High School’s chaplain.
Now in Year 11, Brendan has been meeting with Chappy Nigel for the last four years. “I’ve seen him undergo a massive transition,” Nigel says. “He’s attended behaviour programs, which has linked him in with really good role models. I’ve built a rapport with Brendan as I’ve worked with him and held him accountable.
“He’s now making great choices and passing assessment. He’s a really good leader, but he just couldn’t see it in himself.”
“It hasn’t been a key program that’s unlocked it all, but it’s about focussing on relationships that are true and real, and through that comes trust.” – Nigel
For Nigel, the key to seeing young lives transformed is building trusting relationships. “It hasn’t been a key program that’s unlocked it all, but it’s about focussing on relationships that are true and real, and through that comes trust. My main focus with all students, and with the Indigenous parents, is for them to get to know me and to build a rapport. Once I’ve been able to get to know them a bit, they feel comfortable to come and have a chat with me when there are issues at home,” he says.
Lyn Webb has been the chaplain at Biloela State School and Mount Murchison State School going on six years now, and works closely with Nigel.
“Earlier this year, a BBQ was held for our Indigenous families at a park close to where they live. About 40 people attended, including high school and primary students, teachers and parents. One of the things our community is working on is breaking down barriers and engaging parents in community. We reached out, and as simple as it may sound, the BBQ was life-changing. I had such a fun time being around our Indigenous families – they are a joyful people and the families had a great time interacting with each other,” Lyn says.
“Some of these families live day-in, day-out, with strong influences affecting family way of life. Our kids desire to know more about their culture, so we are coming alongside Indigenous elders in the community helping connect the youth with their heritage.”
Lyn and Nigel are working with local Elders to plan a camp for Indigenous boys, so they can explore and learn the ways of the bush, and get in touch with their roots and family life.
“Some of these families live day-in, day-out, with strong influences affecting family way of life. Our kids desire to know more about their culture, so we are coming alongside Indigenous elders in the community helping connect the youth with their heritage.” – Lyn
Lyn has also worked closely with the coordinator of the PaCE Program (Parent and Community Engagement) in running an after-school cooking program for Indigenous students. “The condition is students must attend homework club before they cook. We encourage them to do their homework and attend school, but also teach them cooking skills. We use three or four ingredients to cook the meals and then they can take the meal home to share with their families. I have great pleasure in seeing the students enjoy cooking and having fun at the same time – they are really good at it and are eager to learn.”
Lyn has witnessed major progress over the last year. “We’ve got some great students who are really buckling down and are attending school regularly, and in 2014 we have our first indigenous school captain in the primary school. It’s been very encouraging.”
*Brendan’s name has been changed to protect his identity