Country towns in Australia are different from big cities and so are the people. Country people struggle to comprehend driving in traffic for two hours just as city people can’t understand a place where everyone knows your name and you are obliged to say hello as you pass in the street. However, nobody can deny the bond we have with ‘home’, whether ‘home’ has five million or five hundred neighbours.

But what happens in the country when young people leave school and can’t find work? If you can’t find work in a big city there is usually the option to move to the next suburb. When your next ‘suburb’ is 200km away from the place you’ve grown up and your friends and family it makes this decision harder.

“Country towns across the country are hemorrhaging their young people,” says Christie Eleman, member of the Central West Lachlan Landcare association. “Kids finish school and can’t find jobs in their own town so a lot of them move away taking with them the next generation of community leaders, role models and soccer coaches,” she continues.

Central West Lachlan Landcare is a non-profit, volunteer driven environmental organization based in central west NSW. It has been operating since 1992 and plays a major role in the local community. They engage local businesses, schools, town residents and farmers to manage natural resources.

Christie has been working with Landcare since early 2012. It was around this time Landcare started to recognize that they were struggling to connect young people in their community with their physical environment.  Christie was instrumental in launching a program that would not only help the environment but their community.

The Youth Leadership Program aims to provide unemployed youth, aged between 18 and 25 years, with the skills and training to obtain jobs in the environmental and agricultural sector. The year long program started last year in 2012 and is due to be completed in July 2013. It also aims to empower young people to build strong community ties through ownership of environmental projects within the community and instill strong leadership skills within local youth, preparing for future generational change.

Fourteen youths are currently involved in the inaugural program which is linked with one of the local employment agencies. As well as attending the program they are completing their Certificate 2 in Conservation Management. “They do this for a minimum number of hours a week but the kids don’t just do what’s required then leave. They spend at least another ten hours a week participating in volunteer activities,” says Christie. They have formed a network of friends and a community to be part of... something more than just a job.

Their projects have included the Great Green Swap project, which encouraged individuals to undertake small changes to their behavior in order to reduce their environmental footprint. The youths organized days in their community where residents could swap their garden weeds for native plants, plastic bags for reusable bags and landfill for compost. “It doesn’t need to be a huge task, just taking small steps within our community can make big changes,” says Christie.

Being a self-funded project they successfully applied for a community grant through the Coca-Cola Australia Foundation. The successful grant for close to $10,000 has given the youth of Parkes the opportunity to grow and help shape the place where they belong.

For more information visit Central West Landcare