Yarning circle empowerment

08 November 2018

Jayson Forrest

Jayson Forrest is the managing editor of Money & Life Magazine.

As a resident of Far North Queensland, Ian Byrne CFP® is impressed with the work Balkanu Cape York Development Corporation is doing with disenfranchised indigenous youth of Cape York.

Ian Byrne CFP® was first introduced to the work of the Balkanu Cape York Development Corporation (BCYD) through one of his long-term clients, Mabellina Wong.

At the time, Mabellina was a project manager at BCYD – a not-for-profit organisation supporting indigenous people and communities living in Cape York.

“I was impressed with the work BCYD was doing to address the issues around economic disadvantage and poverty that was affecting indigenous communities of Cape York,” Ian says. “By working with other indigenous corporations and councils in Cape York, BCYD has been able to facilitate successful training for people living in these communities, especially for the younger people.”

According to Ian, these training programs are centred around improving the overall conditions of these communities, as well as health, education, employment and other economic development opportunities to assist the Aboriginal communities of Cape York.

“Coming from a regional centre, I see first hand the difference and benefits that providing employment opportunities in these remote communities bring. Assisting the younger generation to think differently around their own future and opportunities, and aspiring to achieve more than perhaps they had previously thought possible, can only be a positive change,” he says.


For over 20 years, the BCYD has been assisting indigenous people and communities to achieve self-determination through initiatives and projects that enable the people of Cape York to live better lives.

“Our core competency at BCYD is successful project facilitation, implementation and management of programs,” says Mabellina Wong, who at the time of the grant application, was a project manager at BCYD.

“We believe our youth are the leaders of tomorrow and the importance of motivating them to move forward in their lives, even if they have ‘fallen’ along the tracks, is important to us.”

BCYD also works in close collaboration with other organisations within the region to deliver programs tailored for indigenous people. These programs include business development, natural resources management, education and training workshops, cultural heritage programs, and wellbeing and welfare programs.

The YEEP program

The Future2 grant judges were impressed with the work BCYD is doing with the indigenous communities of Cape York Peninsula and awarded a $10,000 grant for its Youth Empowerment Employment Program (YEEP).

According to Mabellina, the YEEP program has been designed to improve the mindset and confidence of disenfranchised youth by taking them to the pastoral outstation of Kulpa (Coen, Cape York Peninsula). At Kulpa, the youth spend a period of time doing daily chores in a caring and affirmative environment, with traditional elders acting as mentors.

“Our program targets young indigenous Australians, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, by giving them the encouragement and inspiration needed to lead productive, secure and happy lives for themselves and their families,” Mabellina says.

“We concentrate on dysfunctional teenagers who, due to issues outside of their control, need considerable support and motivation to fight social problems, like drug addictions, abuse, violence, social-exclusion, depression and the like. Besides remedial programs, we also hold educational awareness workshops, leadership coaching, skill development, and sporting and cultural activities, which are all helpful in building up their confidence and capability to handle life’s issues.”

Topping BCYD’s priorities with the YEEP program is enabling youth to obtain gainful employment, either through education or entrepreneurship, so they can live independent and fulfilling lives.

Through ‘yarning circles’ (a dialogue circle, which is an important process within the Aboriginal culture), youth are encouraged to be responsible, respectful and to break bad habits.

“Youth are encouraged to learn life-skills, to work as a team, to develop leadership skills, and reconnect with their culture,” Mabellina says.

Participants in the program also learn about cattle mustering, hunting, horse-riding, catching fish, caring for the environment and respecting the ecosystem.

“Kulpa is a safe, tranquil location, where elders work to inspire youth to build up their capacity in their chosen aspiration and achieve it through positive social action. The program is flexible and accommodating to the specific needs of disengaged youth,” Mabellina says.

While the program started out working with 10-12 young people, more places will be offered as the program develops. In fact, BCYD expects to expand its facility to include school holiday programs, where students can also come to the outstation during their break to learn about life skills and be empowered to “become the leaders of tomorrow”.

Economic advancement

As a CFP® practitioner at Ibessa Strategic Financial Specialists, based in Cairns, Ian is acutely aware of the issues affecting the indigenous youth in Far North Queensland, including poverty and social isolation. But he acknowledges the work BCYD is doing to break this cycle of poverty and welfare dependency within indigenous communities, as well as in regional centres like Cairns.

“I believe this $10,000 grant will greatly assist today’s disenfranchised and troubled youth. The YEEP program’s use of traditional elders to take action and mentor indigenous young people in need, is helping them improve their lives and find their place in society,” Ian says. “In that respect, this is an admirable and worthwhile endeavour.

“And while the YEEP program is still in its early days, it’s a positive step to provide opportunities to young people to learn and develop their social awareness. We all know there are very real issues and specific problems these communities face. So, if we can assist the young to look differently at themselves and the world, and be more self-reliant and proud of their achievements, then perhaps a change can occur in their lifetime.”

Not only is the YEEP program supporting indigenous youth, who are troubled by destructive influences and behaviours, to build their self-esteem and help them live productive and meaningful lives, the program is also benefitting the families and communities of the program’s participants.

“Among many other programs, BCYD is providing scholarships for disadvantaged youth of Cape York to advance their learning and education opportunities. This is enabling them to provide for themselves and their families, which is essential in the economic advancement of the indigenous people of Cape York,” says Ian.

We are all one family

At the presentation of the Future2 grant cheque earlier this year, the chairman of BCYD, Waubin Richard Aken, spoke about his teachings to his own children and grandchildren, and how the indigenous communities of Cape York Peninsula are really an extended societal family.

“We are all one family, so charitable acts, like the grant from the Future2 Foundation, benefit us all in the long run,” says Waubin Richard Aken.

You may also be interested in