Four thousand kilometres might seem like a long way to go for lunch, but the ten boys who just made the journey from the southern most tip of Western Australia to Sydney to share a meal at Coca-Cola Place, will go much further than anyone ever imagined.

The boys are all participants of the Clontarf Foundation, an organisation which launched in 2000 with the stated goal of improving the academic outcomes of boys from indigenous backgrounds. From humble beginnings the Clontarf Academy now operates in 59 schools around Australia, and is assisting more than 3000 boys, thanks to its many supporters, including the Coca-Cola Australia Foundation.

In the towns of Albany and Katanning in Western Australia, where the boys travelled from, the program has been an outstanding success. In the 20 years prior to Clontarf’s launch in Albany, only 2 kids from an Aboriginal background had completed high school. Since the program was launched in 2006, thirty-four boys have graduated with a higher school certificate. 

Working it Out

One of the boys currently hoping to follow in the footsteps of previous Clontarf alumni is Boyd Woods. The 16 year-old has been involved with Clontarf since he started at the Katanning High School in year eight. His favourite subject at school is English, and he’s a natural communicator with a capacity to make people laugh. 

“The best thing about Clontarf is the trips we take with our mates, and the way it’s taught me really useful things like cooking and communicating with people,” said Woods. “When I graduate I want to move to Perth, and play football, and I’m going to buy my own house one day.”

Woods is already working part time at the local branch of the National Australia Bank, a job that he says has given him confidence, and a chance to make and spend his own money.

“Really it’s about giving these boys the support, and confidence and self-esteem they need to do well at school and have aspirations to create a great future for themselves,” explained Phil Gilbert, Director of the Great Southern Academy, a Clontarf program based in Albany in Western Australia. “There are young men who’ve been through the program, and gone on to get work and become leaders in their community, creating motivation and aspirations in the young kids coming through.”

Troy Jetta is fourteen, he’s in year nine, and attends the Great Southern Academy where Gilbert is the Director. He says the best thing about Clontarf is travelling to Sydney on a plane, and meeting people from all kinds of different backgrounds.

Excited and ambitious, Jetta is already keen to start a bricklaying course at TAFE in 2015, and wants to become a Master Builder, so he can build houses for his community.

“The great thing about Clontarf is that it’s showed me the importance of school and education,” said Jetta. “I really want to do a building apprenticeship, then I’m going to build houses in my local area.”

Transforming Communities

According to Gilbert, these kinds of aspirations have a powerful transformative effect on the whole community, because they make it possible for Aboriginal kids to get the skills they need to participate in the economy, and become self-reliant.

“We give them the support they need to get through school, we structure the program around education, leadership, well-being, employment and sport, and that gives the boys a chance to get work and have a great positive impact on the next generation,” said Gilbert. “We know we’ve succeeded when our boys graduate as men who are healthy, functional, happy and proud of their achievements.”