Realising, possibly for the first time in your life, that someone cares about you, can be an overwhelming experience.
“At the beginning the participants hate you because they are scared, but by the end, many are crying because they don’t want to go home,” said Jacqui McCallum, a 20 year veteran with Operation Flinders.
The Operation Flinders Foundation runs an eight-day outback intervention program for young people at risk in South Australia and the Northern Territory.
BHP has supported teams from Roxby Downs and the Upper Spencer Gulf to participate for the last 11 years, through its Olympic Dam Community Development Program.
Jonathon Robran, Business Development Manager for Operation Flinders, said since they began in 1991 more than eight thousand young people have participated in the program.
Staged in the northern Flinders Ranges, six hundred kilometres north of Adelaide, the Operation Flinders Foundation runs five such exercises a year, each consisting of up to 12 teams of 8-10 young people to transform their lives.
“Many come from homes where there is no talking and zero emotional connection,” said Jacqui. “They are all out there with fundamentally the same issues, and by the end of the week, many have discovered a level of self-esteem they didn’t know was possible.”
According to Jonathon, it’s about giving the young people the skills and confidence to make different choices in their lives, and it works. “We have a clinical advisory committee that undertakes clinical evaluations using groups that have and have not gone through the program. Outcomes of the most recent evaluation indicate program participants have a higher level of engagement at school and are less likely to get involved in anti-social behaviours.”
Jacqui McCallum, who is a nurse manager at Adelaide’s Lyell McEwin Hospital, became a volunteer in Operation Flinders after an invitation from a friend in the Police Force. “I was hooked straight away, because I appreciated how the structure could benefit the kids. Plus it is great to be able to put something back,” she said.
Before taking part in any work with the children, team leaders have to undergo extensive screening and training. “Each exercise is over 8 days and they have backpacks and a sleeping bag,” Jacqui said.
“The campsites are preset and the kids walk a total of 100 kilometres and all get specific roles, like cooking or campfire setting, teaching responsibility and teamwork.
“There are no phones allowed, and because a lot of these kids only know how to communicate by phone, talking initially really challenges them. But eventually they open up, usually at night around the campfire.”
Each team receives a follow-up celebration at the participant’s school for presentation of certificates of completion. Further leadership and personal development opportunities are also offered to the young people as part of a structured follow-up program.
“Many of the kids never complete anything, so taking this challenge gives them the idea that they can do something of substance and you can see the change in them at school. They are stronger in themselves,” Jacqui said.
“While at work, I ran into a guy that had done the trek five years ago and he told me I had changed his life. He didn’t have anything then but had gone on to get a trade, a relationship and had just become a dad.”
“I told him it wasn’t me that changed his life, he just needed to find himself.”