Grass­roots group turns lives around

Southern Gazette (South Perth) - - NEWS - Joel Kelly

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 Hew­son­mu­ni­ d449807

Ngalla Maya’s Mervyn and Bev­er­ley Eades with busi­ness de­vel­op­ment man­ager Aaron Baker.

El­der Mingli Wan­jurri-McGlade.

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