• As we celebrate NAIDOC Week, Heather Finlayson, Save the Children’s Head of Australian Programs, reflects on the contribution of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff, and the enduring partnerships we have developed with organisations and communities across Australia.

    Save the Children began working with Australian children and families back in the 1950s and this week gives us the opportunity to reflect and celebrate the continued work that Save the Children does around Australia, especially with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

    The 2017 theme for NAIDOC Week is Our Languages Matter, to emphasise and celebrate the unique and essential role that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ languages play in cultural identity. This makes me immensely proud of the work that we do to integrate language and culture into our programs.

    Our program work has evolved, developing into an approach that seeks to place communities themselves as the drivers of the work – an approach crucial to working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families. This has been achieved by creating partnerships with those most affected by the issues we seek to address, and enlisting local know-how to provide more culturally appropriate and effective programs to communities.

    NAIDOC Week is a celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the continued contribution they make to our country and society. Save the Children celebrates and acknowledges the wonderful work of the staff working in our Australian programs, including more than 22% who are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander. Most of these staff members deliver programs through frontline service delivery, often within their own community and families. Their commitment to addressing disadvantage is outshone only by the passion they have for working with their community, and promoting the power of a community driven approach.

    Inune, Save the Children had the chance to host an all-women’s donor trip to our programs in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. This eye-opening visit gave a group of urban non-Indigenous women the opportunity to not only experience the challenges that our programs face, but immerse themselves within the Aboriginal communities and their unique cultural approaches to engagement. Meeting with our staff and understanding the intricate ways of acknowledging and addressing local issues, brought about a greater appreciation for the work we do daily.

    The trip showcased women like Sarah Leddin, a case worker for the Strong Tomorrow program in Kununurra, which provides support to young people in contact with the justice system. Sarah leads community initiatives and brokers local partnerships to tackle youth offending, keeping local kids engaged with their culture and community. Our partnerships with organisations such as Language Nest – an immersion-based education initiative teaching local children their traditional language, Miriwong – help connect children and the community to culture, instilling cultural identity and pride.

    The success and integrity of our programs are enhanced through our frontline workers like Sarah and their local knowledge of community practices. We want to continue building our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce, a commitment is underpinned by our Reconciliation Action Plan and our ongoing development of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander partnerships.

    Our organisation is richer because of the contribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff, communities, stakeholders, service partners and most importantly, the children and their families.