The ChangeCourse journey: part 1

ChangeCourse mentor Aaron Nagus greeting participants at the airport. Photo: Bonnie Hook/OxfamAUS

An intensive program for young Indigenous people to bring about change in their communities and themselves, ChangeCourse is one of the cornerstones of Oxfam Australia’s work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across the country. The initial phase of the 2012 cycle is currently taking place in Kinglake, and we’ll be publishing a series of blog posts from the event as it unfolds.

ChangeCourse program development volunteer Bonnie Hook reports.

Saturday 26 October

Ask any program development worker how their week was before the launch of their event, and they will more than likely sigh a breath of relief that they’ve gotten through the anxiety and nervousness that go hand-in-hand with organising a big event. But look closely, and you’ll also see the pride and the passion of a team who have turned a dream into reality, and seen the achievement of their goals shared with 27 youths who, until recently, were just unfamiliar names on applications.

This very pride and passion were written all over ChangeCourse coordinator Peter Nathan’s face on Saturday evening as he sat at a table having a yarn and a feed with 11 of his ChangeCourse participants. These Indigenous youths had flown into Melbourne airport from the most remote areas of Australia throughout the day, where they were met by members of the ChangeCourse team. Some of them had been travelling for more than two days: nerves were wrought and exhaustion overwhelming.

Once they had collected their (enormous) bags, the participants hopped in taxis and headed to the Oxfam office to be greeted and checked in by Peter and ChangeCourse alumni Deanna and Jasmine (on board this year as mentors to the participants).

After a long day waving “ChangeCourse” signs and greeting new friends, I hopped in a taxi with our two Santa Teresa women, Chiquita and Melanie. Neither had ever been to Melbourne, and both had left families and familiarity behind. Melanie and Chiquita encompass all that’s important about the ChangeCourse journey – courage. Indeed, by getting on their flights to Melbourne and committing to engage with the process of change, all of the participants have demonstrated great courage. Their courage will continue to be tested throughout the week, as they are further challenged by the course.

We all stayed in the city that first night. It was an exciting beginning to the week, pushing us all out of our comfort zone and into the unfamiliar territory of what’s sure to become one of the week’s main themes. With the foundations of a ChangeCourse family already initiated, we ate dinner together and went for a drink in Federation Square.

It was an incredible feeling to watch the processes we’d worked so hard on in the lead up to ChangeCourse falling into place. It was also fun to observe the participants’ relief at having arrived safely and seeing their curiosity about the week ahead. We know the challenges to come, and we know they will change the perspectives and outlooks of each participant — but we’re all unsure of the outcomes and reactions.

As Aaron Nagas, a mentor tweeted, it was “game faces on” as we embarked on a journey which would take our relationship with all of these young fullas from — in Peter Nathan’s words — “participants to partnerships.”

Find out more

Learn more about ChangeCourse
Read about Oxfam’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People’s Program