Student leaders and change-makers have emerged from the inaugural Regional Development Australia Far South Coast Youth Leadership Forum.
Held earlier this month at Kianinny Bush Cottages in Tathra, eleven teens took part representing Bega High School, Eden Marine High School, Carroll College Broulee, Lumen Christi Pambula, Sapphire Coast Anglican College Bega, and home school students.
Issues of social change were front and centre, with passionate young people from the Eurobodalla and Bega Valley inspired into leadership and challenged to take on local social and environmental problems.
“We focus on fostering an entrepreneurial mindset and providing skills around problem-solving, communication, resilience, confidence – all the things that help young people stand up and make a difference,” says Avalon Bourne
from Sonder Youth, who steered the program.
The program has run for six successful years in the Shoalhaven, it’s hoped expanding the opportunity to the Bega Valley will create a network of engaged and empowered youth across Southern NSW.
“Growing up in a regional community can be very isolating, there is often limited opportunity to connect with other young people from different schools,” Avalon says.
“We’ve seen young people connect through this really positive platform, relationships that go on to spur on a range of different projects.
“People get a taste of what their own influence can do, they believe in themselves more and follow through on opportunities.
Following some initial team building and icebreaking activities, participants were introduced to the ‘Impact Challenge’ – the largest component of the program.
Participants are called on to work collaboratively to identify issues of concern within their community and to design feasible, practical projects to tackle these issues.
At the end of the Impact Challenge, the groups come together to present their ideas, gain feedback and commit to the first steps of their action plan.
Three projects were developed in the Impact Challenge:
Designed to tackle climate change on a local level, this group developed a project to help members of their community reducing their CO2 footprint. They have developed two campaigns to begin with. The first is a tree-planting event to be held in conjunction with School Strikes for Climate to encourage the community to be productive in combatting climate change during the strike.
They plan to fundraise the money to buy a variety of natives to plant and to entice people to come by holding a community picnic alongside the planting.
The group’s second campaign is to reduce plastic pollution in the community by arranging a dog-walking clean-up event. This will be followed by campaigns encouraging local businesses to be more sustainable through
letter writing and further events.
The first steps for this group were to liaise with Bega River and Wetlands Landcare and contact Bega Valley Shire
Council to discuss available space to plant trees in the community.
Special Bin Waste, Chicken Scrap Taste
This group designed a project to tackle widespread food waste. The first stage involves an awareness campaign including posters, short videos and social media highlighting the issues surrounding food waste.
The second stage involves developing a community garden and chicken pen to promote eco-friendly food practices, community connection and education around food waste.
This project idea was very thorough, and the team had developed several stages from commencement on to continued development and maintenance.
The first action for this group is to develop a petition and/or survey to gain feedback from the community on the issue and to show Council the benefits of a community garden. They would then work with Council, local schools or businesses to find a location for the garden.
They plan to hold working-bees to build the garden using recycled materials from the tip or donations. They will then generate a roster of dedicated members of their community to maintain the garden.
Sun Society – safer sustainable solar
This group are concerned by the minimal use of renewable energy sources in Australia. They aim to promote and fundraise for the increased use of solar power and renewable energy sources in schools, local businesses and in town centres.
The first steps for this group are to contact solar companies and develop a budget for a solar system for their local school. They then plan to partner with local businesses and organisations to see if they will “match” funds raised by the group.
The team plans to hold fun runs and bike rides to promote awareness of how little Australia uses renewable energy resources and to raise money for solar systems in the community.
They hope to work with Council to make this a focus of the community.
Student feedback from the two-day program was positive.
“I learned more about my core values and how my communication can directly impact other people, one student from Sapphire Coast Anglican College said.
“It has been great to hear how everyone wants to change something and make a difference and how similar our ideas are,” said one student from Bega High School.
“I learned a lot of things I didn’t know about myself,” said another.