HELLO FROM BALGO
Q&A WITH AN EDUCATION OFFICER AT ONE OF WA’S MOST REMOTE ABORIGINAL COMMUNITIES
The tiny dot that represents Balgo on the West Australian map sits alone in a sea of red. The Tanami Desert stretches to the east, the Great Sandy Desert to the south and the nearest population centre Halls Creek is some three and a half hours drive away – assuming the road is open at all.
It might sound a lonely place to take a teaching post, but according to Fiona the Wirramanu Aboriginal Community of Balgo hills offers a welcome as warm as the ancient sun baked landscape in which it sits.
We asked to Fiona about her experiences of the community, the Luurnpa Catholic School where she works and the School Breakfast Program that has been improving the lives of students for over twenty years.
What is your role at Luurnpa Catholic School?
“I was originally employed as a Special Needs Education Assistant at the end of last year. This year, I’m a youth worker/education officer. I have my youngest son, Dace, with me. He is in Year 8 and attends school here.
The primary focus of my role is students’ well-being and assisting them to feel settled, to be aware of their own personal strengths and to be in class ready to learn. One of the ways we do this is by providing a late breakfast. Every day looks different and brings its own challenges and joys. The committed and supportive team of staff at Luurnpa Catholic School helps place high importance on the needs of each individual child. Being part of a dedicated, caring team also makes it easier to live in such a remote location. “
What was it like for you arriving at Balgo?
“Flying into Balgo for the first time was a fantastic way to appreciate the sheer vastness and beauty of the Tanami Desert as well as the remoteness of the Wirrimanu (Balgo) community. The Luurnpa school community and the wider community members have all been very warm and welcoming to us, and we are very happy to be here.“
How does the School Breakfast program work at Luurnpa?
“Every day from 7.40am to 8.55 the kitchen serves mangarri (food) to any students who would like breakfast. A late breakfast is also provided between 9-10am. All students are welcome regardless of their circumstances outside of school and most arrive early knowing it’s a part of their school routine.
Staff offer friendly greetings to the students, remind them to wash their hands and serve breakfast. There is a choice of wheat biscuits, tinned spaghetti/baked beans or tinned fruit.
The students enjoy chatting to staff and sharing time together as they sit down to eat. Having a full stomach is one of the important needs for each student to feel ready for class and ready to learn.”
What impact is the program having?
“Some of the principal issues the Breakfast program aims to address are student attendance and engagement within the classroom. Student hunger correlates with student participation, so the breakfast program is vital to providing a nutritious start to the students’ day.
That nutritious and welcoming start to the students’ day that often makes a significant difference to how their day may go. Students know that they are always able to have some mangarri before going to class, adding an incentive to arrive at school early.
At Luurnpa Catholic School, the breakfast program has been in place for over twenty years. It is an established, pro-active, and important part of the whole school routine.”
What difficulties are faced by families in maintaining good nutrition in Balgo and how is Foodbank WA helping?
“Being a remote community, Balgo faces issues with ensuring regular supply of fresh produce at reasonable prices. Living from payday to payday creates stress on meeting living costs, including food costs. This can lead to a choice between power bills, medical bills, or food shopping. Some families simply don’t have enough money to maintain an adequate supply of fresh food.
By providing breakfast foods to Luurnpa Catholic School, Foodbank WA is helping bridge a gap to one of the obstacles of school attendance and supporting the health and well-being of every student regardless of their personal circumstances. The positive effects of this cannot be measured!”