Selena Uibo: Change through education in Numbulwar, NT
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Didamain and Selena.jpgSelena Uibo is a teacher who has chosen to work in her mother's homeland, Numbulwar in the Northern Territory to participate in being the change she wants to see among the local people in her community. After graduating Valedictorian in her class at the University of Queensland and participating in several leadership programs around Australia, she returned to the Northern Territory to teach with the hope of inspiring her students with the positive scholastic experiences she has accumulated. Selena spoke with Chelsea Dunsire about the challenges the local community is faced with as well as the vision she shares.

Why did you want to become a teacher?

Both of my parents are retired teachers and were both principals at some point in their teaching careers. As a young person growing up, the value and importance placed on education was a part of everyday life. I was fortunate to have a positive education experience for most of my schooling and participated in mainstream schooling environments. The influence of family in my life has been paramount, as it is the fabric that makes me who I am, what I believe in and what I aspire to achieve.

How did you come to live and work in Numbulwar?

As my mother is from Numbulwar we always visited my family on holidays. In 2008 when I had deferred my university studies for a few years to travel and work I decided to spend a few weeks tutoring in Numbulwar at the end of the school year and to spend some time with my family. Having that experience as a tutor really pushed me to return to my studies so I could come back to Numbulwar as a qualified teacher and provide opportunities to the young people in the community in a positive way, in the same way which I had positive schooling experience.

What challenges do people in the Numbulwar Community face?

Some of the challenges faced in Numbulwar Community include our remote location leading to a lack of employment opportunities due to no industry or tourism in our community. Lack of services in health and housing can have a big impact on community well-being. Jobs are competitive in the community among local people and this in turn impacts young people looking for work pathways from school age to early adulthood. I have realised that every managerial position in the community across a range of services are not filled by local people, which almost creates a ‘glass ceiling’ situation. Some youth face boredom because of the limited activities after school hours, and this in turn can lead to property damage, vandalism and theft. 

How do you and the school address these challenges?

I would like to think I am helping my senior students in the area of employment by teaching them hands on skills in our two senior class businesses. The first is our ‘Numburindi Arts’ enterprise business where we buy and sell local handcrafted pandanus baskets, mats, dillybags and seed and shell necklaces from local women in the community as we have no art centre in Numbulwar. The second business we have is our ‘Second Chance Shop’ which is an op-shop where we collect donations from supporters, in and outside of the community, and sell second hand goods and clothing once a fortnight. We have had a really great response from the community and the local support has been encouraging as the profit made from the ‘Second Chance Shop’ will contribute to students going on a secondary excursion in semester two. Both businesses have been integrated into subjects through the Northern Territory Open Education Centre, which will assist students in gaining credit for their NT Certificate of Education and Training (equivalent to the year 12 certificate).

Can you tell us about a time where these challenges were overcome?

I think students engaging in hands on learning experiences where they can see the outcomes (such as running a school enterprise business) has been a positive way to overcome the barrier of having no job experience or work skills. The students enjoy having extra responsibilities and the trust of counting and handling real money. I have seen some wonderful improvements in individuals and with one particular student who, in the past had low attendance at school, has been one of my regular students this year and already participated in two excursions to Darwin because of their good behaviour and hard work in class. This student has very low literacy and numeracy levels, however their involvement at school in the two senior class businesses have been really strong and it has improved their confidence at school plus their numeracy and literacy levels and their ICT skills.


What drives change in Numbulwar?

It is difficult to say what drives change in Numbulwar. I have been quite frustrated at times when things move slowly or do not get off the ground at all which has challenged me on both a personal and professional level. I try and focus on what I can do with my students and the supporters around us and make some small enhancements in the way my students view the world and the opportunities they are able to access. I think ultimately people in the community must drive change when they want things to happen or to stop happening.  

What changes would you like to see in the Numbulwar Community over the next ten years?

Changes I would like to see in my community over the next ten years is more small business opportunities and more local people trained into manger positions across the services already in the community. I would like to see a Numburindi Arts Centre established to continue the student business and offer real employment opportunity for students within the community and have a space for artists in the community to make their work and connect with each other and people who buy their products. Numbulwar is located in a lovely part of the country right on the coast, so there is room for tourism opportunities to develop. I feel these changes would enhance community pride in Numbulwar and provide local jobs to people who want to stay and work in their own community.

How can the wider Women in Focus community help support your work in the Numbulwar Community?

There could be several ways that the wider Women in Focus community could support my work in Numbulwar. Some ideas for supporting us at Numbulwar School include:

  • Buying the beautiful products from our Numburindi Arts business as this in turn supports the local women artists to make a small income for themselves as most are retired pensioners.
  • Connecting us to people who may be able to support us in acquiring a shipping container transported to Numbulwar to convert into an Art Centre!
  • Donating second hand clothing and goods to our ‘Second Chance Shop’
  • Volunteering time and skills to assist us in making our student businesses more productive (as I am not a “business brain” myself)
  • Linking networks to our school about small business ideas for local people to be trained up within our community
  • Sharing ideas of small, low cost initiatives that have worked in remote or rural areas

Do you have ideas for low cost initiatives that could be implemented in rural areas? How can we develop partnerships and projects to connect Indigenous Communities and Groups with the wider community? Join the conversation and share your experience and ideas in the comments section below.

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