August 4 is 2016 National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day, a day where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families to celebrate the strengths and culture of their children. We chatted to AFL footballer Jarrad Oakley Nicholls about his important work as a mentor for Indigenous kids.
Tell us about yourself
I was raised in the northern suburbs of Perth on Noongar land; my mum is a Yamatji woman and my dad is Koori. I always wanted to be a professional AFL player, and at 17 I was drafted for the Richmond Tigers. During my career I’ve also played for the West Coast Eagles.
Tell us about the Wirrpanda Foundation
The Foundation helps Aboriginal kids finish school, improve their health and lifestyle choices, and to study further or enter the workforce. Indigenous mentors deliver the Wirrpanda Foundation’s programs and together we’ve reached over 30,000 Aboriginal people.
How do you work with Aboriginal kids?
At the Wirrpanda Foundation I’ve got a number of roles, mainly in employment. I’m the Kwinana (in Perth) office manager, and we run a few programs both for the younger ages and also to assist Indigenous people in finding employment. We encourage the whole family to get in and use our services.
With the younger boys and girls it’s all about getting them engaged with school if they’re not currently, or finding another avenue where they can work out what they want in the future.
What’s some of the best things about your work?
The guys that first come in, they really show that shame factor, sort of head down. After a while you see their personal pride lifting and they can actually see something they want to strive for, whether that’s employment, training or making a happy and supportive environment for their kids.
I really enjoy working with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and I’m proud about my culture. I want to help in any way I can and support any of our mob to strive for the best they can be. We [the mentors] can see it but it’s about making sure that they can see it too.
“I really enjoy working with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and I’m proud about my culture. I want to help in any way I can and support any of our mob to strive for the best they can be.” Jarrad Oakley Nicholls
What are the challenges kids face?
The issues that I faced growing up, and that my mother faced growing up… still generation after generation, they are still here.
It’s sad to say but a lot of our families, especially the boys, think you’re not a man until you’ve gone to jail. We need to show them other paths.
The kids, they’re our future … we really need to put a lot of our time into these younger kids; get into their heads and talk about the positive role models in their lives.
“The kids, they’re our future … we really need to put a lot of our time into these younger kids; get into their heads and talk about the positive role models in their lives.” JARRAD OAKLEY NICHOLLS
What does the future look like?
We don’t want our programs around for the next 10 or 20 years. We want to see our participants functioning without programs like ours. Basically we want to work ourselves out of a job!
I think we really need to change the perception of everyone, because our young generation are our strength and our future, and they’re the ones that are going to be taking along our culture, but also, they could be the next leaders.
For more information about Children’s Day visit http://aboriginalchildrensday.com.au/