Communities are collectives, not individuals, and therefore to engage with anyone is to engage with everyone. However True or sweet this sentiment, it is rarely the reality. Communities are more often thought of as top-down organisations, with a lack of regard for those at the bottom, those without a voice. In 2009 the Halls Creek community commissioned a 10 year community plan to try and fix this issue. It was seen as an opportunity to improve socio-economic outcomes and build a positive youth vision for the future.
MoHow was invited to engage with the community’s kids aged 10-14, with the expressed challenge of elevating their voice into the plan. At the time, Halls Creek had one of the lowest socio-economic outcomes for young people in the country. The temptation would be to find the cause of these low outcomes, however instead of focusing on the problems in Halls Creek Mo asked the kids what they found special about Halls Creek. Mo recognized that focusing on problems would limit the kid’s ability to grow past them and their ability to create a positive and purposeful future.
The kids through that the beautiful surrounds, bush foods and people in the community made it special. However, the kids also talked about the ugliness of drinking in the community. And how their vision for the future of Halls Creek was one with no alcohol. Where alcohol related illness, abuse and economic reliance would not be able to taint the beauty of the community. A student from Halls Creek, with the support of peers, powerfully stated that any young person (indigenous or not) was very lucky to not get hit when alcohol is around.
However,as is often the case, listening to the smallest voices is one of the hardest things to do. The youth vision of an alcohol-free Halls Creek was met with widespread backlash, given the economic and social reliance alcohol had in the community. Throughout this, MoHow stood their ground, providing support and backing for the youth vision, empowered by the belief that a bottom-up approach to community engagement and vision would yield long lasting and powerful results. In contrast, the Shire president at the time Lynette Craig said that the kids don't understand the implications of it. She said, "they just see, go and take the grog away, then we will have mum and dad back. But mum and dad are going to follow the grog if they're drinking and probably leave them behind anyway."
After much turmoil and debate, much of the community was backed by the Director of Liquor Licensing in Western Australia, who headed the youth cry and Halls Creek became a semi-dry community,with reduced access to alcohol. In 2015, a review of the restrictions that were imposed at the request of the children of the community showed an immediate 50% and continuing reduction in rates of assault, domestic violence, police call outs and alcohol related hospitalisations. This is only the tip of intergenerational social and health change that is continuing to take place in Halls Creek today. MoHow consider this to be one of their finest projects and a case study for youth engagement and empowerment. Because the voice of the children is the voice of the future, and without their voices their is no future.
Click to read the press coverage associated with the case study below.
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