Project O empowers, inspires North-West girls

THE CHANGE MAKERS: "Mini" Brotherton and Kaytlyn Johnson, both 15, at work in the Project O classroom. Pictures: Paul Scambler
THE CHANGE MAKERS: "Mini" Brotherton and Kaytlyn Johnson, both 15, at work in the Project O classroom. Pictures: Paul Scambler

A new program is aiming to break the cycle of inter-generational unemployment and family violence.

Project O is an initiative from Big hArt and has been running at Wynyard High School for about 18 months.

Wynyard was chosen as a pilot site for the program because of its alarmingly high rates of family violence.

It operates within the school curriculum as an elective line for grade 9 and 10 female students.

It hopes to achieve its aims through equipping the young women with skills, resilience, and confidence.

The course is celebrating its first batch of graduates.

Project producer Janelle Johnston said the program took a different approach, through workshops and arts-based activities.

“We’re not looking at a traditional school work model,” Ms Johnston said.

The students are equipped with skills like public speaking, event organisation, dealing with media, preparing proposals, and leadership.

Ms Johnston said it differed vastly from a traditional pathway planning curriculum through, firstly, the language that is used.

“We’re not thinking about employment, we’re thinking about passion,” she said.

“It’s about having a career that you love, not just a job.”

It encourages the participants – who refer to each other as colleagues – to think outside the box, and look at entrepreneurship as a way to pursue their passions.

About 29 students were involved this year, and as their course wraps up, they’re using their experiences to firm up the program for the incoming grade 9 girls.

The Project O experience does not stop at grade 10 graduation day – they will go on to be part of 20+20.

This legacy project will follow them through, and will continue for 20 girls each year for the next five years.

“20+20 is about encouraging entrepreneurship, especially in areas like the North-West where job opportunities are quite limited,” Ms Johnston said.

“How do we broaden young people’s horizons and how do we back young people to make positive change?”

Through events that 20+20 facilitates and supports, Ms Johnston said there would be the opportunity for some of the young women to gain paid work.

Both Project O and 20+20 are funded by the federal government, but that is something that Ms Johnston hopes will change.

The project has made an ally in Liberal Braddon MHA Roger Jaensch, who is promoting it to various state government portfolios in order to attract funding.

Mr Jaensch said talk in the community had changed tact, from concern about at-risk female school students.

“People in Wynyard aren't talking to me about girls at risk anymore. There are still girls at risk, but there is now also this group of girls who have stepped up and faced their challenges and found their voice,” Mr Jaensch said.

“These young women now have a positive profile in our community, and they set an example for themselves and their peers and the rest of us about what girls in our town can do and be.”

NEW LIFE: "Mini" Brotherton, 15, says Project O has changed her for the better.

NEW LIFE: "Mini" Brotherton, 15, says Project O has changed her for the better.

Set of skills make all the difference

Before she started Project O, “Mini” Brotherton was a different person.

“I was really shy, and they helped me build resilience and confidence, and taught me that it’s ok to be myself,” Mini, 15, said.

The grade 9 student is now staring down the barrel of summer kitchen work at an on-site MONA restaurant, an opportunity she scored when the Project O team travelled to Hobart for the launch of the children’s commissioner’s report into family violence.

“I think every high school needs Project O because it has made us who we are now. I never expected to be doing what I’m doing today,” she said.

“You might not like it to start, but you’ll see the usefulness in it. They set you up for life.

“My little sister is so keen to come to high school and join Project O.”

She said she thought the project had made an impact on the greater school community, instilling a wider sense of friendship across classes, peer groups, and genders.

Although, she said, some of the boys were letting their jealousy shine through.

“It’s like yeah sure, we get to do all this cool stuff, but you’ve got guys-only football teams,” Mini said.

“But they support up and my guy friends say how amazing it is, what we’re doing.”

In May, the Project O team hosted Colourathon, a public fundraising event in the heart of Wynyard. They raised $12,250.

“I loved walking down the street after the Colourathon and see all of posters everywhere and thinking ‘I was a part of that’,” Mini said.

OPPORTUNITIES: Kaytlyn Johnson, 15, is finding new avenues through Project O.

OPPORTUNITIES: Kaytlyn Johnson, 15, is finding new avenues through Project O.

Benefits for self and for Wynyard

Fifteen-year-old Kaytlyn Johnson has found chances through Project O that she says she never dreamed of.

An aspiring singer-songwriter, she was given the opportunity to record her own song with Australian musician Thomas Mitchell.

“It’s something I never would have got to experience without Project O,” Kaytlyn, grade 9, said.

Beyond personal experiences, Kaytlyn said she felt the community’s youth as a whole was benefiting from the program.

“The youth reputation is better now,” she said.

Next year, the project is expanding interstate, and will be run at a high school at Cooma in New South Wales.

It’s something that Kaytlyn said she was excited to be a part of .

“We’re going to have lots of connection with the Cooma girls, we got to write them a letter and tell them what to expect,” she said.

“The course is a big one. It’s something we don’t get to experience in other classes.”