JOURNEYING WITH YOUTH
Community, friendship and faith is something I believed I was familiar with or, one could say, rather knowledgeable in. Little did I know my understanding of these concepts would be challenged by a remote Indigenous community, Daly River, situated in the Northern Territory. I was given the incredible opportunity of experiencing a completely different sense of community. The vitality of these concepts within the Nauiyu community made me question my personal approach to life, faith and relationships as I witnessed qualities of love, respect, forgiveness, openness and kindness at a new level, evident in each member of the community.
Myself and two other girls, Alannah and Tess, decided to take up the wonderful opportunity provided by the Cardoner Network’s Two Wolves Abroad programme to immerse ourselves in the Nauiyu community at Daly River. We all expected this to be a life-changing experience, but didn’t realise just how much we would love spending our days within this beautiful, caring environment. I’d never truly witnessed the warmth and comfort of community to such a great degree until I entered Nauiyu, seeing the relationships between each student, learning about their families and how interconnected everyone was.
We started out as your typical city teenagers, worrying about what we were going to wear and how our hair looked, but it didn’t take long for us to relax. We kept telling ourselves “This is not a fashion show” whenever we felt gross from the 40-degree heat, the dirt, walking barefoot, etc. We attempted to adjust to their simple ways of living – with the exception of using the air conditioning.
We spent our days working at St Francis Xavier’s, which provides education for students all the way from preschool to high school. I was completely overwhelmed by the kindness each and every one of the students had, always waving, smiling, initiating conversation. Each day we’d move around classes guiding students in reading, writing and maths. We found most students, those who showed up to school, to be extremely enthusiastic and keen to learn. Throughout each week there are a number of cultural excursions which are a part of the school’s educational program, allowing the students to learn, understand and embrace their culture and customs. We were fortunate enough to attend most of these cultural excursions, which for me was the highlight of my whole experience. One day we were taken to the Miwulnginis, lotus flowers, which were situated in a billabong in the middle of the bush. It was a very special moment, being invited and welcomed into such a sacred women’s site. This site became a regular excursion spot where we became quite familiar and confident, walking into the muddy billabong, leeches everywhere, legs sinking, picking Miwulnginis and bringing them back to school to share with the community.
The support at Daly River was beyond any of our expectations. We were so blessed to have been part of such an amazing community and it wouldn’t have been possible without the teachers and elders welcoming us into the community. They took our persistent and annoying requests without complaint, whether it be removing spiders from our house or giving us instructions on how to use the gas stove top.
During the final days of our journey, the relationships and bonds we formed were getting stronger and stronger, with the students waiting outside our house each day to play a good game of soccer or tag and to tell scary bush stories passed down from their elders. These final days were the most difficult, knowing we were leaving soon. The hardest part was starting to say goodbye to the students, as they found it difficult to understand we weren’t returning at the start of the new year; however, we assured them we’d be back in the near future.
We were gifted the most beautiful painting by Banjo, one of the school groundsmen and a role model for many. He painted three Brolgas. The thought, meaning and time put into this painting was touching. Alannah, Tess and I were all speechless. We were not expecting anything, let alone a painting that took three days to complete. This moment truly touched our hearts and is a testimony to how connected we were with the Nauiyu community in only a month. We could only imagine just how strong our connection and relationship with the community would be if we stayed longer.
As I look back on my thoughts and emotions that I recorded on paper each night, I find a common theme. Every day I reflected on their sense of community and kindness. We were a group of three complete strangers stepping foot on their sacred land, yet were instantly invited into their lives and as I wrote in my journal: “Somehow we became connected to their community.”
Find out more about The Cardoner Network’s The Two Wolves: Abroad program.