Outback youths learn life skills

Sunshine Coast Daily, 19 October, 2011 

Imagine never seeing a wave crash on the sand, feeling the grains between your toes or tasting the salty water of the ocean. For a group of 12 troubled young Aboriginal men who have travelled to the Sunshine Coast from outback Queensland this week as part of the Beyond Billabong program, the experience has already been life-changing.

The four-week program is aimed at helping them make a better life for themselves and learn life and work skills, hopefully leading to a job. Beyond Billabong group leader Paul Vuister, a Sunshine Coast resident, and other Queensland mentors have been working with the youths to teach them new skills, including team-building, personal health and values.

"For these young men an experience like this can be life-changing," Mr Vuister said. "The program aims at giving them a chance to be something and teach them skills they might not otherwise have a chance to learn."

The youths will spend a week in the region, participating in team-building activities including surfing, paddle boarding and football, before travelling to the Gold Coast for a day at Dream World. The following three weeks will be spent at a campus in Longreach where the youths will learn horsemanship, livestock handling, computing, four-wheel-drive skills, and indigenous art.

"It's a very rewarding experience, not only for the group, but also for the mentors," Mr Vuister said. "We can really see how much they have changed by the end of it. "They go from feeling completely isolated to feeling a part of something more, and with a purpose.