AAP: Jabiru closing the gap themselves

Publish Date:
28th August 2013

AAP story

Neda Vanovac, AAP August 28, 2013, 4:18 pm

Sick of short-term political promises to close the gap that never seem to amount to much, an Aboriginal community has struck out on its own, devising a 25-year investment plan to do it themselves.

Aboriginal people in Kakadu on Wednesday announced their own plan to improve the health and education of their children via a series of grassroots programs that will tackle everything from early childhood development, learning in language and job support.

The scheme aims to lift up entire communities by focusing on kids.

Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation (GAC), which manages and distributes the royalties paid to the Mirarr clan by the Ranger uranium mine in Kakadu, handed over a $1 million cheque on Wednesday to kick-start the funding for the project, which will be rolled out by non-governmental organisation Children's Ground in the coming months, first in Jabiru and then around Alice Springs.

"Would you put your child in a classroom where somebody speaks a foreign language and expect them to excel? Nowhere in the world does that happen," says Jane Vadiveloo, CEO of Children's Ground.

"Children should learn in their first language. That doesn't mean they won't speak English, (but) what they'll get is education in their language in a culture they understand, and that's what's different."

The program, which will cost $55,000 per year per family, will not only educate children in their first languages of Gundjeihmi and Gunwingku, but will have one teacher for every four students to teach them literacy and numeracy so they can be university-ready when they graduate.

Children will be able to access music, arts, recreation, and sport the way kids do all around Australia, except those in disadvantaged communities, Ms Vadiveloo says.

They'll be IT and multimedia-savvy as well as grounded in the knowledge of their local area.

Children's Ground has also received $2 million in federal funding to roll its programs out across the country.

Ms Vadiveloo says it's moving away from a crisis-driven approach to education devised in Canberra with a curriculum of little relevance to Aboriginal kids, in whose culture one bit of knowledge is taught in five ways, via song, dance, story, painting and on country.

At the Jabiru Area School, children in years 7 and 8 are working with cultural support officers to learn about their kinship groups.

"The young kids are really losing the languages, they're mostly speaking English and Kriol and most of them don't even know their own language or clan group," says Dell Hunter, who teaches Aboriginal children about their culture.

The program she runs will eventually be incorporated into the Children's Ground system, and by spanning 25 years there will be an opportunity to guide kids into adulthood so they can take charge of the economic agenda in Jabiru and enjoy the opportunities in their community.

"We're doing it over the long-term so things don't change when there's a policy change," Ms Vadiveloo says.

"Things won't change with an election every three years, new ministers won't come and go and change the landscape."

In 2011, GAC built a $7 million residential college in Jabiru where 25 indigenous kids live during the week so they don't have to travel long distances from out of town to get to school.

It was intended to support Mirarr kids who are the fourth generation to live with problems associated with the mine, such as cultural disruption, poor health, alcohol addiction and long-term environmental damage.

Facilities are state-of-the-art, with computer rooms for homework, a recreation room with ping pong and pool tables, and the kids' own artwork framed along the walls.

This, too, is part of the community's efforts to improve the future of their children.

"Nowhere before has control been given to the community to run the agenda; nowhere before has something of this scale, with this level of investment, occurred in Australia," Ms Vadiveloo says.