Grassroots group turns lives around
AS Federal Parliament handed down its Close the Gap report card earlier this month, highlighting woeful disparities between the quality and duration of Aboriginal lives and other Australians, a Belmont organisation was recognising grassroots progress.
The not-for-profit Ngalla Maya was established 14 months ago to tackle the endemic incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people.
Since July last year, the Belmont group of just three volunteers has assisted 96 people, many identified as ex-offenders or at-risk youths, to access training.
Out of the 96 people, 17 of those are now employed.
The rest, according to local Aboriginal man and Ngalla Maya founder Mervyn Eades, are part the estimated 52 per cent of Aboriginal or Torres Straight Islanders (of working age) who face unemployment.
Indigenous people make up 25 per cent of the prison population despite only representing 3 per cent of the overall population.
“It is a slow process,” said Mr Eades, and he would know.
By the time he was 13, Mr Eades had already seen the inside of a juvenile detention centre and would spend the following 18 years of his life in WA prisons.
In 2002, he was released and later got married, which set him on the straight and narrow.
He now focuses his energy on helping young people exit the same matrix of entrapment he faced during his prison years – parole, no money, no skills, no help, crime and prison.
“A lot of the boys and girls they get out of the prisons and they’re sent into (social housing) in this direct region and they’re the ones who really need help,” he said.
“There’s not much to help them when they get out.
“I’ve been out since 2002 and saw there was a lack of anything in the community for our people – that’s why I started Ngalla Maya.
“Change has got to come from the grassroots.”
And grassroots it has been – the organisation has operated on just $13,000 on their efforts to close the gap.
But the results are showing, one family at a time.
Mother of three Anna-Maria was imprisoned for 10 months following a 15year addiction to methamphetamine and enduring domestic violence.
She was mentored by Ngalla Maya’s business development manager Aaron Baker on her release, and secured retail training, a driver’s licence, a home and work placement.
She said the future looked bright with newfound stability and the means to provide for her children.
Pictures: Jon Hewson
Ngalla Maya’s Mervyn and Beverley Eades with business development manager Aaron Baker.
Elder Mingli Wanjurri-McGlade.