By Catherine Brooks
When I woke on Wednesday morning, I peered out to a horizon of emerald green. There’s a layer of grey mist, but slowly peaking out from the clouds a country sun is going to break through. On days like this, you wake up and not even the anticipation of a new day is enough to chip away the optimism.
Kurumburra is the home of some of Victoria’s most productive cattle farms and as Mitch and I walked out the door of Bill’s house, jumping into the car and heading down to the local football clubs, I can’t help but say: “It’s not too bad, is it?”
Mitch and I are both country kids who now live in the city, but there’s something about a clear blue horizon and the fresh air that always feels like home, much more than Melbourne ever will.
This is the first time The Rural Youth Ambassadors’, in collaboration with the Country Education Partnership, have run a student leadership day. We aren’t nervous, just excited. As we carry in the boxes of booklets we prepared the night before, Kaylee - a fellow Ambassador and Kurumburra local - waves at us eagerly. She’s working with us today, too.
By around 9:30am, 75 Year 5/6 students from across the local region wander in. And so it begins.
We’ve been invited here to empower these kids to find the leader within themselves. We want to hear about their dreams and aspirations for the future. I can only hope that we are able encourage them enough to think about what they want to change, and to realize that they are the ones who can make it happen.
Empower, Encourage, Inspire.
As the day progresses, we get the students to identify leadership qualities within some famous people from literature and across the world. The exercise is to get them to think “who is a leader?” and “what qualities do they have?”
The aim is that they will realize many of the qualities they see in other great leaders, are indeed qualities that they possess already.
We then get them to discuss their own dreams and explore what they are passionate about. It’s at this point that Bill, the past principal of Kurumburra Primary School, brings in his good mate “Cobra”. Cobra is the same age as Bill, but there’s one clear difference.
After a cricket accident, Cobra is in a wheelchair: he is a quadriplegic.
Unable to do much for himself, and with very limited movement in his body, many would’ve thought that the outlook for Cobra’s life was grim. In spite of this, he is incredibly positive. He is brave enough to admit there are challenges, and, sure, sometimes he wishes the accident hadn’t happened, but he’s involved with the football club, he goes to all the games, he lives independently, and he has great mates and a family who he credits with being able to make the best of a bad situation.
When Cobra leaves, the kids are silent. Into this silence, Bill asks the crowd “What did you learn from Cobra’s story?”
The kids chime in one by one.
“Never give up”
“Even though things are bad.. They could be worse”
“Just because everyone says you can’t, doesn’t mean you should stop trying”.
Empower, Encourage. We’ve done it.
The kids are doing well and as they edge towards the afternoon I don’t see their enthusiasm wane.
The next bit is perhaps the hardest... how do we inspire them?! We talk to some of the kids in the crowd, some have been selected as potential soccer stars and one girl is the 6th fastest swimmer in the state. It’s quite phenomenal the amount of talent that can be hidden in our rural communities. Usually this talent is most often recognized in the sporting arena, however, if you spend a few moments talking to other young people, you can see that the future is shining bright under the blue skies of Eastern Victoria.
When the final 10 minutes of the day came, Bill asked the students to raise their hand if they had found the day valuable. Every single hand rose.
As the crowd dispersed I got a few hugs, a few high-5’s and a great number of “thankyous”. In the quiet and empty foyer of the football clubs, there was a strange empty feeling that I didn’t anticipate. I stood back and realized that despite our best efforts, our energy and our nerves, we may never know if we made a difference to these kids today. As discouraging as it sounds, all we can do is say that we tried. If we play by the percentages, more likely than not, at least one child should remember the day fondly. We may have changed a life. I hope we did.
I might have to return to Kurumburra in a few years to find out.