“Massive improvements in self-esteem, social cohesion, their own value of self and others, and the understanding of hope for the future.” That’s what ACU’s Future in Youth program provides to participants, said Mr Anthony Whitty, Deputy Head of School of Exercise Science Melbourne.
Based in Baucau, Timor-Leste’s second largest town, the program promotes health, wellbeing, and life skills through sport. It includes an inter-school soccer program and competition, training for teachers and coaches, and the provision of equipment.
The program has a tangible impact in Timor-Leste, a country where 61 per cent of the population is under the age of 24, and 37 per cent of people live below the poverty line. By offering the chance for local young people to participate in community-run activities, Future in Youth helps lift the future opportunities available to individuals of all ages.
Getting back more than they give
Each year, three staff members and 10 ACU students travel to Baucau to run the program and support community development alongside community members.
Mr Whitty said it provides a valuable engagement opportunity for the ACU students, who go through massive transformations from when they go to when they come back. The program isn’t about doing things for the community, but asking the community what they need and then working together to achieve those goals.
“We are giving children hope. We are giving women hope, and young girls hope,” said Mr Whitty.
The program has been operating since 2010, and the focus now is largely on helping the community in Baucau, including the teachers, local youth workers, and youth centre, with forward planning. The hope is to expand Future in Youth to include sporting options beyond soccer, as well as a program exclusively for females.
The benefit of youth sports is well understood in Australia, and the aim is to extend that benefit to our country’s closest neighbour.
“We know what it does for our children, what it does for our community,” said Mr Whitty. “Sport is a great relationship starter, it’s a great conversation starter… you don’t need to speak a language. Anyone can play and therefore start a conversation. That’s why sport is important.”