New women’s education hub fostering economic choice

A woman for our women, CEO and Chair of Real Futures, Wendy Yarnold, is launching a new program which will empower Aboriginal women to pursue their goals and succeed.

From the Biripi Nation, Yarnold was raised by her mother on Dunghutti Country in Kempsey, New South Wales.

“My mum was a single mum for a lot of my life. She worked long hard days on farms picking vegetables and milking cows to give us what we needed to portray a seemingly reasonable economic position … she worked so hard that her determination, pride and work ethic had to rub off,” Yarnold said.

“The gnawing perspective was that we were less everything than everyone else and extra effort had to be put out if we were to achieve. Although proud, my mum was really shy, she never really had a voice outside the home.

“Mum was the type of person who would literally give you the clothes off her back to help you but could never ask for help herself.”

“As a woman in a very patriarchal environment she felt a failure and [was] oppressed by society’s expectations, that made me stand up for her and speak for her.”

Yarnold deferred university and at 22-years-old, moved across the country.

“My uncles and dad spent a lot of time in the bush living off the land, timber cutting and prospecting. I went to Western Australia to get rich quick looking for gold. I sold everything I owned and bought an old Land Cruiser, trailer tent, an old metal detector and a book of mud maps and left the freshwater of Dunghutti Country to the dry WA desert looking for gold,” she laughed.

“I lived off gold for about five years, it was so hard. But it was a real anchor, it earthed me like you wouldn’t believe. To be living on Country, to be living off Country and to have Country running through your lungs and veins was a peace and a belonging that is rare for young people to experience these days.”

Now, Yarnold has over three decades of experience in community consultation and government programs that centre around economic freedom for Aboriginal people.

“Everyone wants the chance to step out of that ‘prison of Aboriginality’, where everything is controlled. What you earn is controlled, where you live is controlled, how often you pay your bills is controlled, where your kids go to school is controlled. If you are making money you have financial freedom to make your own decisions,” Yarnold said.

“Economic freedom is what underpins all of the close the gap building blocks.”

Yarnold is the CEO of Real Futures, an organisation that focuses on training and empowering Aboriginal people to become workplace assets and community role models.

Real Futures grew from the program Pathway to the Pilbara, which assisted Aboriginal people from across the country to find employment in the mining and resource centre in WA.

“We took care of the FIFO issues around fatigue, having somewhere to stay, food, transportation, mentor support during inductions, medicals, until the plane left for site” she said.

“My husband, Brad, came from a FIFO background in the resource sector and knew exactly what details needed to be covered. He was a brilliant, firm mentor knowing that a $100,000 salary was going to change a lot of lives.

“[We began teaching about] relationships, babies, looking after your money … all those things. We called that Real Futures, it started as a little training arm essential to take care of the detail in what we were doing.

“We changed the name and took that on as our core business with Pathways to the Pilbara moving to the background as the boom was sort of over. And there were plenty of deadly people who wanted jobs on Country, so it wasn’t right for us to be bringing people in from other states.”

Real Futures connected with UN Women to create a new program focused on Aboriginal women; Women’s Business Second Chance Education Hub.

“It’s the first time that UN Women have delivered a program in a developed country. Most of their work is in [under]developed countries,” Yarnold said.

“It was targeted for … Aboriginal women in western Sydney to get a second chance at education, leading to other opportunities.”

“We called it Women’s Business Second Chance Hub from a cultural perspective.”

Based in Rooty Hill, the program was created in partnership with UN Women and made possible by support from the BHP Foundation.

The centre has a sister hub which has opened in Melbourne, aimed at supporting women from a multicultural background, and is run by not-for-profit organisation, SisterWorks.

“The intention eventually, once we have secured our identity operating Women’s Business Second Chance Hub successfully, is to have First Australians working together with New Australians,” Yarnold said.

However, Women’s Business Second Chance Education Hub will focus on supporting Indigenous women.

“Part of the target are women who have left school to have babies and now want to finish their education or apply themselves to some vocational training or just participate for their own wellbeing … we wanted a space place for these women to come to, to dream and just breathe and consider what it is that they would like to do,” Yarnold said.

“We don’t have measured outcomes as a lot of different types of service providers do, we have benchmarks that indicate social and emotional changes in wellbeing, as well as economic participation, learning, setting goals, being innovative, starting a business, a career, whatever each woman wants for her life.

“We have developed a sophisticated database to record and retrieve data that will inform the intricacies of our work with our women in the greater western Sydney region. This pilot has the potential to be duplicated all over Australia and the globe.”

By Rachael Knowles

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