As featured in The Country Web 2017 Annual.
About 90 families living across Far Western NSW access education for their primary school aged children through Broken Hill School of the Air. Approximately half of them employ an educator/governess.
The role of ‘govie’ is traditionally one which attracts young women—often on a gap year having just finished school. They are a cohort of workers who can be inexperienced and vulnerable. Living within the family they facilitate care and deliver the educational program developed at School of the Air (SOTA).
Although SOTA organises a Home Tutors conference as an induction for new families, what can be overlooked during this get-together is specific support and information needed to ensure the emotional wellbeing, resilience and safety of the young women heading out to their new homes.
Ellen Day from the Rural Resilience Program (RRP) and Marie Kelly, the RAMHP Coordinator based in the Far West identified this need and in February of this year launched an innovative new event that would offer the support required and fill a gap in services to isolated farm families. With backing from SOTA Principal Kylie Green and her staff, in partnership with Far West In-Home Care and Governess Australia, they set out to deliver a workshop where governesses were provided with information on key topics to assist them with the transition to life in the bush.
Living remotely can be a huge mental, physical, and practical challenge. Have you ever driven on a dirt road? Can you change a flat tyre? Where can you go to for support when you are feeling overwhelmed? What do you do for entertainment when you live three hours away from the nearest town? These were just a few of the questions raised with the 32 participants of the workshop.
To thrive and support the families for the best possible outcome, a govie needs to maintain personal resilience. The workshop provided strategies for dealing with stress, maintaining good mental and physical health and practical tips for outback living.
The educators were also able to link with one another. ‘Dots on the map’ identified geographical synergies. The girls were encouraged to exchange phone numbers and email addresses so that everyone felt more connected.
Rural isolated families face unique challenges including financial hardship, extreme weather conditions and isolation. The ripple effect may mean these factors also impact on the govie and the classroom. The girls learnt to identify the signs that a person may be struggling with their mental health and how to find and provide help; as well as how to support each other.
Honest discussion and factual information enabled the young women to leave the workshop with a toolbox full of skills and strategies, and a better understanding and increased awareness of the challenges they may face.
The verbal feedback during and after the event indicated that educators hadn’t even considered some of the things discussed. The response to the workshop was positive and enthusiastic with women feeling more confident and better equipped to start their outback journey.
Some of the more experienced govies opened up and bravely shared their stories—some good and some bad—there was learning in every story. It was requested these sessions become a regular part of the annual Home Tutors Conference.
The govies felt supported and were appreciative of having the opportunity for discussions in a ‘safe’ place. Importantly, the training helped them to identify the value they bring to their families and their workplace.
According to Lee-Anne Bright, who initiated ‘Governess Australia’ and has over 20 years’ experience as a governess, the workshop was fantastic because it helped bring everyone together in a safe place and put faces to names.
‘The girls realised they were not alone and that self-care and communication skills were really important, as well as learning about safety issues in the bush and what skills would be helpful. Subsequent to the retreat, we followed up with the govies to talk about some of the issues and tips discussed including how to use mindfulness as a way of self-care. It was wonderful to see some of them having the courage and self-awareness to communicate with their employees about their roles and their feelings. We would really to see this workshop evolve and continue each year.’
The afternoon workshop ended with drinks and dinner, providing an opportunity to share stories and get to know one another. It may be months before some of these women meet again, and establishing a social connection is invaluable.
The facilitators are already discussing ideas and are planning to host this event next year. Feedback from Children’s Services Manager, Cobar Shire Council, Karen Lennon indicates that it was valued and highly beneficial.
‘The women and organisations involved were easy to work with and knowledgeable about the issues faced by govies,’ she said.
The workshop presented a unique opportunity for RAMHP and RRP to work in partnership providing much needed support to educators, governesses and employed home tutors. It was a great example of two organisations ‘connecting and collaborating’ for an outcome that changes community capacity and improves quality of life and business for our farm families and their workers.
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