Sunday, March 2, 2014

When Life Goes Pear Shaped: Living and Learning Resilience

Image Credits: Bruce Winter
by  from New England North West NSW, ABC Open:

What happens when you’re exploring the concept of resilience with a community of teachers and students and all of a sudden you need it yourself, not as a concept but as something tangible and strong?

Here’s how we experienced that.

In 2011 a group of enthusiastic and talented mental health and education professionals got together to explore the health and wellbeing of Year 10 students in the NSW Northern Tablelands town of Glen Innes and then to communicate these stories to a much wider audience.

In time the group became a team, incorporating a diversity of expertise from health, education, the media and arts.

The goal was to interview and record Year 10 students’ stories of growing up in a rural community, including positive perceptions of their life experiences, hopes and future aspirations, and then turn these stories into scripts.

The idea was to create from these generic scripts, a series of interactive plays or short films featuring students from the senior drama class. They would learn how to develop storyboards, theatre production and filmmaking.

That was the plan, but tragedy ensued with the loss of the school’s young drama teacher, a situation that left everyone grieving and the project stuck in limbo.

In 2013, three members of the original team Dr Aditya Menon (above right, filming Grace), Dr Alan Avery and myself felt that ethically at least some of the students’ stories had to live on in a creative format and not be destined to become a lonely file in some obscure office.

At that point a crucial name emerged in the guise of ABC Open producer Tim Lehā. With Tim’s guidance we approached two of the original students (at that point finishing Year 12) and re-interviewed them, filming them in places that were meaningful to them.

Two years on what had changed? And what were the things that made them strong?

Workshopping with Tim we’ve been learning to film and edit. In the end, from all the audio and vision we’ve recorded, we hope to make two short documentaries.

The first, exploring how a young person might cope with the stresses of the HSC, is just about finished and we’ll be sharing it soon.

So what have we learned from all of this? For one, the great value of a spirit of kindness seen in so many people going out of their way to ensure that at least some of the students’ voices were heard.

We’ve learned lessons of resilience and hope and another way through when life deals a heavy blow and all your best made plans go out the window.

This guest post was prepared by Bruce Winter and Dr Alan Avery. Bruce and Alan are mental health promotion professionals and have been focusing on this Glen Innes youth mental health project for the past three years.
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