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Keeley Waterbury is a Year 10 student participating in the Indigenous Youth Leadership Project (IYLP), called The Gathering which brings together Year 9 and 10 students from across Australia for four days of networking, cultural and educational opportunities.
I grew up mainly in three different towns: Darwin, Katherine and Jabiru. Jabiru was the smallest of the three and it was definitely the most challenging.
There isn’t much to do in Jabiru besides going to the town pool, going to footy training or going down to the lake to enjoy the scenery. But if you have a little bit of free time you can always go fishing and visit tourist sites, which I would say are the most beautiful places in the world.
My schooling experience was rich at Jabiru. Going to a school with roughly 150 students made us much closer than most. Everyone knew each other and you always knew what the gossip was – but it also meant that you were always around the same people in the same small community, which didn’t provide opportunities to branch out and do things out of your comfort zone.
There were only four other students in my year level that were doing Year 9 work. We did Maths/Science and English through Alice Springs Distance Education with our teacher on Skype. I found this very difficult – there were always IT issues and other technical dramas. We never had the opportunity to ask for help from our main teacher and we had to manage our time due to not having set lessons.
My school was also very transient and we had kids with behaviour issues that would close down the whole school sometimes, which was extremely frustrating and put us at a great disadvantage.
In remote communities, there is only so much you can achieve and experience. It is difficult to select subjects to improve your chances of going to university, as some schools cannot offer the subjects. The social and sporting opportunities are limited by distance.
I decided to apply for the Indigenous Youth Leadership Project (IYLP) through The Smith Family because my brother was in the program in 2015. Seeing him grow as a person and being able to experience so much more than he ever would have living where we did, I definitely wanted to be able to join IYLP and I was lucky enough to be accepted after applying in 2016.
When I first arrived at my new school in Adelaide I was so excited and I just wanted to meet everyone and settle in. I was a little nervous but so were the other new girls. Everyone made me feel welcome and as soon as we finished dinner on the first night I knew that that all the boarders were a family and they would always be there for me.
Through IYLP we are lucky enough to have gatherings and dinners regularly. The main gathering is for Year 9 and 10 students in Sydney. It is a week of meeting new people, some in the same situation as you and some that have already experienced what we are going through.
Meeting students who are in the same situation as me, being away from their families, their home town and their regular routine was such a great experience. We made positive relationships with each other that we will have for a long time. It was also a chance to reconnect with old friends who are from your home town but have gone to different schools.
During the week, we did team-building activities and we were lucky enough to have a structured work placement, which was so helpful for PLP [Personal Learning Plan is a subject usually undertaken in Year 10 to help students to plan for their future and select subjects that will steer them towards their chosen career]. Another unforgettable learning experience was having the chance to listen to an elder who was so full of knowledge, and having mentors to look up to.
Having a good education does not completely depend on your school but how much you’re willing to put in and how much effort you’re willing to give. Boarding is not for everyone but if you do not take a leap of faith and have a go than you’ll never know how much you may have achieved.
IYLP has given me the chance to achieve and strive for things I want in life. I want to complete Year 12 with an ATAR that gives me options for what I could study at university. I would also like to play AFL at the highest level I can and I want to be able to help other Aboriginal people around Australia have the opportunities they deserve.
My message to other students: If you’re in a situation where you feel like you’re not being pushed and you’re not getting a good education, speak up. Contact someone who acts as a mentor to you and can help you find more pathways that may suit you. When you have the chance for an education, take it and I assure you, you will not look back.
This article was sponsored by the Smith Family
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