Fairground 2016 was the first youth-focused conference I had been invited to, so I was curious to see how it would all turn out. It was also technically my first day ‘on the job’ – with the YEP Crew assembling like a multicultural Avengers team! (Credit for that awesome quote goes to Golda – please have a look at MYANWA’s Speak Out Program’s fantastic work.)
I arrived early in the morning to a dozen empty stalls and a few bleary-eyed YACWA staff. I immediately opened up the conference program to peruse through the glossy pages. With four different workshops running at the same time twice a day I was under immense pressure to choose wisely. Fortunately, on conferring with other conference-goers, the workshop quality was considered to be a consistent gold standard on the whole.
My first workshop choice was Developing Knowledge and Skills: Providing effective and respectful services to Trans and Gender Diverse young people. I haven’t had much experience working with this group of people so I found the workshop eye-opening in terms of the breath of terminology representing the enormous variability in the ‘types’ of lived experiences of Trans and Gender Diverse people. Many of the tips offered to us were centred around offering basic respect in how we used language to refer to Trans and Gender Diverse people. However, the best summary of the lessons I learnt in this workshop was simply don’t assume, and always ask their preferences appropriately as everybody’s lived experience will shape them differently.
In the afternoon, the YEP Project crew had our moment in the limelight. Anania Tagaro, our YEP Project Officer, spoke wonderfully about the aims and the journey the youth-led project had undergone in previous years. The talk culminated in the brand-new YEP Website being unveiled! The Crew also spent a few minutes each introducing ourselves to the audience – and not for the first time I spend a moment being overwhelmed by the experience, knowledge and passion that all of our little YEP Crew Peer Educators exude!
On Friday, I chose the ‘Developing Knowledge and Skills: Listening to the voices of vulnerable and disadvantaged children and young people workshop’. The main aim of the session was to explain the WA Commissioner for Children & Young People’s (CCYP) work with youth, and the lessons his team had discovered through their years of experience. The final activity in this workshop involved ‘Jonny’ a 16 year-old boy with ADHD, a criminal stealing offence and non-attendance at school. The participants were prompted to call out all the various people that Jonny would come into contact with in two weeks – for example a case-worker, his best mate, an assigned lawyer, someone from the education department, a headspace volunteer and so on. The audience would come up and be tied to Jonny with a length of string to symbolise the web of people trying to support Jonny.
The final tally was 14 paid and up to 10 additional unpaid people surrounding Jonny. It was suffocating just to imagine needing to see that many people, let along having to explain your ‘story’ to each of these people and having to follow their instructions. So we ended the session with a firm commitment to know when our presence was necessary and helpful, and when it was not, as well as a more empathy for the “Jonny” stuck inside this tangle web.
Finally, I would like to share my reflection on the humbling presentation by Dr Marie Wilson. She had come all the the way from Canada, where she was one of the Commissioners for Truth and Reconciliation Commission which investigated the horrific treatment of Canada’s indigenous peoples which mirrored Australia’s own.
The stories she shared with us did not need to paint visceral images of abuse and torture of a people made vulnerable by the “weaponised policy” of Government. We could see it ourselves in our own treatment of our Indigenous people. The most terrible reflection that Canada’s survivors echoed to Dr Wilson was that they couldn’t love their own children, brothers, sisters or parents; they couldn’t even love themselves. This breakdown of identity and humanity was heartbreaking to hear about. When I looked around to see if anyone else was struggling with the brunt of the emotions Dr Wilson’s keynote had brought forward, I was unsurprised that not a single face was unaffected. The compassion that drives the Youth-sector to do their valuable work is inspiring to see, and it’s intoxicating when their passion is exhibited in an enclosed space.
Thank you YACWA for this incredible experience at Fairground 2016.