STORY BY ALICE LEGGETT
The sound of shuffling paper and typing in the workroom is lost behind animated conversations, laughter and the sound of children playing.
“I know I’ve come far,” says a smiling Louise Garlett, 32, raising her voice over the chatter.
“Before the program I would never talk to strangers, like we’re talking now, I was so quiet.”
The mother of four was struggling to find work, but is now well on her way to achieving employment and getting her driver’s licence, bringing with it a new-found independence.
Garlett is one of nine women taking part in the New Opportunity for Women program in Kwinana, known as Deadly Yorgas.
The program — in conjunction with the Wirrpanda Foundation and Central Institute of Technology — aims to help young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women build self confidence and make positive choices, focusing on relationships, employment and mental and physical health.
“I used to just stay home and take care of the kids,” Garlett says.
“But now I’m focusing on me a fair bit more.
“Hopefully after this program I’ll continue to feel this confident in myself.”
The name of the program, Deadly Yorgas, is inspired by the word for woman in Noongar language. A similar Wirrpanda program, Deadly Sista Girlz, aims to empower young Aboriginal women and girls in school.
Program coordinator and Central Institute of Technology lecturer Maxine Tomlin says Deadly Yorgas is broadly a self-development program.
“The NOW program covers Career Development and explores employment and education options – Study Skills, Literacy, Numeracy and IT skills as well as Personal Management and Health units,” Tomlin says.
“The program has enabled these women to identify their own strengths, both on a personal level and on an employment level, and they’ve been able to identify what capacity they have for leadership.
“[The program] has a theoretical base to it, where we look at what our personal strengths are and what are our weaknesses.
“It’s all based towards gaining the sort of life skills that you would need not only in the greater community but in the workplace as well.”
Kwinana has an unemployment rate of more than 20 per cent among Indigenous people, compared to 6.5 per cent for non-Indigenous people, and the southern-Perth city has been identified by the Wirrpanda Foundation as being in great need of programs to engage the local Noongar community.
Kwinana Mayor Carol Adams says the value of the program cannot be underestimated, because giving young Indigenous women something to focus on is extremely important.
“The fact is, it’s not only a disadvantage to be Aboriginal in this country but even more so to be an Aboriginal woman,” she says.
“Generally it seems like there are a lot of programs and opportunities for Indigenous males, and not as many for females — that’s why it’s so important that they have these programs to engage Aboriginal women.
“You can’t undervalue the importance of that to a community fabric.”
Adams says The Wirrpanda Foundation and its programs have not only given hope and opportunity to Indigenous people in the area, but their office has provided an important place for members of the community to go and to feel safe.
Crystal Walley, 22, says she’s undergone a big transformation since starting the program, having previously had very low self-esteem.
“I’ve come a very, very long way. I was so quiet and shy before – I probably wouldn’t even be sitting here having this conversation,” she says.
“The environment is quite comfortable — everyone is confident around each other, and that makes it a bit easier to come out of your shell. It made me feel like I didn’t need to be shy.
“We’ve also done a lot of online training for employment and we updated our resumes, so we’ve done a lot of really helpful stuff for getting into the workplace.”
For Walley, it’s about taking it one step at a time.
“I really hope that I’m able to gain employment, but I also just want to continue to be more confident around people — that’s all I’m looking for at the moment,” she says.