54 reasons’ Mobile Youth Outreach and Play2Learn give children opportunities to play in remote communities
Out in the remote community of Tumbarumba in the NSW Snowy Valleys, around 30 children are engrossed in a game of touch footy with 54 reasons Youth Specialist Jacob and NRL partners. The rain has made the grounds muddy and wet, and the young players are drenched – but the kids have their game faces on and have begged to continue playing despite the inclement weather.
Since the devastating fires that raged through the area in 2020, followed by the COVID pandemic, families in areas such as Tumbarumba have been isolated and not able access services for their children. The 54 reasons holiday programs are offered at the perfect time to provide free programs for children to play, learn and engage in a safe and supportive environment.
54 reasons staff Jacob engages with young people through sports.
“Days like this are good, especially for the kids. For the children to have these activities that they don't normally have access to and new experiences, it's good,” says James, whose six-year-old daughter Kendal sticks close by as they watch his two other children play on the track oval.
It’s the first time for James to bring his children to the sports activity organised by 54 reasons but he’s glad there’s an opportunity for them to get involved.
“I like them being involved in sports, I think it's good for them. And there's not as much opportunity in the smaller community for them to play different sports. Touch [footy] is currently an option that they don't have unless we to travel to Wagga Wagga, which is an hour away.”
Kendal and dad James chat with 54 reasons staff Brody (left), while the games are going on.
Team Leader of 54 reasons for Murrumbidgee, Brody explains the importance of engaging with young people in the community through activities like these. “If we didn't have this today, there'd be no school holiday programs. We are trying to prevent risk taking behaviours [that may arise] because the community has limited opportunities. So there's that level of risk which we try and mitigate by having mobile youth sports accessible to kids.”
Designed for young people aged 8 – 18, Mobile Youth Outreach is also delivered during school term, which helps increase school attendance. The various activities also bring students and teachers together in a fun environment that changes the dynamic of their relationship.
“We did a cooking class where we partnered the teachers up with the students, and they were doing activities together. They were cooking, prepping meals, laughing, joking around. It was a different dynamic. It was an opportunity for the teachers to see the kids in a positive light. It was really nice to see, and the kids picked up on that as well.”
Younger kids get to play too
While the sports activity goes on, an open tent is a hive of activity for younger children on a quieter side of a field. There are games of hopscotch, blowing bubbles, finger puppets, painting. There’s also an area with things like plastic jugs, tongs and containers that encourage kids to play with ordinary items normally available at home.
It’s a child friendly space offering free Mobile Play2Learn, attended by children 0-5 years and their carers.
Mum Angela says having activities that cater to different ages help keep her three children engaged,
including baby Evelyn.
Twenty-eight-year-old mum Angela has been bringing her children Edward, 2, and Katie, 4, to Mobile Play2Learn even before 4-month-old Evelyn was born.
“I'm at home full time with them, they don't go to daycare. The biggest thing is even just a bit of that social side for them. A lot of the same kids come each week. So it's been good for their social development,” says Angela.
54 reasons Family Support Specialist Lizzie explains, “A lot of these children aren't accessing early childhood services, so this is their only social outlet and we know how important it is for children to have as many opportunities as they can to play, especially in the zero to five age setting.”
She adds, “One of my favourite parts is watching the children grow and their confidence grow from first coming to our playgroup, being really shy, apprehensive children to then coming in and saying, ‘Let's set up the kitchen today, or whatever it may be to really taking that ownership of our group.’”
Play2Learn helps children develop confidence through play.
Like the Mobile Youth Outreach program, Play2Learn started to go out in July 2022 to reach predominantly bushfire affected areas in the region. Lizzie explains the value of these services to the communities, “I think the ripple on effect from such things as fires particularly have been that families have been isolated and not able to access services for their children. And then with having COVID straight after the bushfires, that isolation period of children not being able to connect and engage with others in their community.
“So our programs come along at the perfect time to be able to offer a free program for zero to five children to come learn and engage in a safe supportive environment. And then also for their parents to be able to come and learn different ways of how to play and learn alongside their children.”
Talking to kids and carers about children’s rights
At Mobile Youth Outreach and Play2Learn, children and parents are made aware of children’s rights. As Lizzie says, “We use a lot of role modeling and lots of open-ended language to support children in knowing their rights particularly around play and learning letting them know that you have the right to play in a safe environment such as playgroup.
“You have the right to be able to come in and express your feelings and ideas and be heard. So that's where a lot of the children's voices come back into our program, and they really drive what we set up and what we deliver.”
Brody says the right to culture is also an important feature of the programs. “We are very encouraging and we also empower the kids to learn about their culture, whatever it may be.”
Coming from a First Nations background, Brody shares, “My hope would be for all of the Aboriginal kids we work with to know their culture in whatever way or shape or form they want. But to have a genuine connection. My biggest hope is that everyone we work with have a genuine sense of belonging.”
After Tumbarumba, the 54 reasons team also headed to Tumut and Batlow in the NSW Snowy Valleys. All in all, around 80 children attended the school holiday programs, and engaged with parents and carers who stayed around to watch their children play.
Aboriginal Rugby League Football Club members run a BBQ in Tumut and provide positive role models.
It’s a partnership that works to provide opportunities for children in these remote communities. As Brody says, “My hope is for children to see that there is actually opportunity out there for them. That there's people that actually care and want to see them succeed.”
Find out more about the work of 54 reasons.
These activities were delivered in partnership with 54 reasons, Snowy Valleys Council, Anglicare’s Homelessness Youth Assistance program, NRL Riverina, Tumut Regional Family Services and Dindima Aboriginal Rugby League Football Club. They were made possible thanks to funding from the Australian Government for the Black Summer Bushfire Recovery Grants Program.
Photos: Lucia Ondrusova / Save the Children.