What does an isolated community do when young people do not have access to cars and cannot get their driver’s licence?
If you are the youth group from Woorabinda in central Queensland, you put a proposal to council, it buys a car, and then hires two locals to give driving lessons.
This is the doing of youth worker Nickeema Williams, who is all about supporting young people to come up with their own solutions.
She set up a core group, and what came out of one of their regular meetings was the need to be able to drive.
“For them to be able to be independent and to be able to get affordable food or to move away to get better jobs, and being in a remote, isolated setting, it’s really important,” Ms Williams said.
But this is not as easy as it sounds.
Not many households in Woorabinda have a car and there are fewer people who either have the time or the ability to give lessons.
“A lot of kids who managed to get their written tests were struggling with either finding funds to pay for it, or if they did pay for their licence, how are they supposed to build up their hours?” Ms Williams said.
On top of that, the nearest centres offering driving lessons between are up to 170 kilometres away.
The group held a meeting, it was minuted, and they approached the Woorabinda Aboriginal Shire Council.
From that, the director-general from Queensland’s Department of Transport and Main Roads came to the community and Ms Williams spoke on behalf of the group.
“The council decided that this was definitely something they needed, and they purchased an automatic car and they’ve allocated funding to put on two people to staff a driving program in the community,” Ms Williams said.
“That’s one step towards young people building their independence and that came out of just two or three meetings.
“The young people were really blown away with the fact they can make change.”
Small steps, big changes
Resources and funding are not always available, so Ms Williams’ focus was on strengthening young people’s voices, so they could gain confidence and advocate for themselves.
“There is no point having the same people come in and out, or even for myself to try and figure out what they want and how to solve their problems,” she said.
“It’s more sustainable and powerful if it comes from them. They know how their lives work and what the biggest changes would be.”
The youth group is learning basic skills, such as how to run a meeting and how the council works.
“It’s getting them inside different spaces when they’re younger so when they finish school they can see how their world works, how their community works and what things can be done.”
Ms Williams knows how challenging life can be for young people in her community.
“There are all the most obvious barriers that come with being a young Indigenous person living in a community, and that’s access to basic health, education, affordable food and jobs,” she said.
“Some come from overcrowded households, or they are not living with their parents, so it often means they are unable to focus on anything but their basic needs.
“If kids are worrying about where they’re sleeping or where they’re staying … then they are missing out on building up their personality, finding out what their interests are, being more engaged at school, just having a core group of strong friends or just having fun.”
Giving young people a voice through the youth group is just one step to address this.