Once a year, on a balmy tropical evening under the stars hundreds of north west residents gather to celebrate a spectacular event, now in its sixteenth year. Staging, lighting, music and performers all focus on one thing. The remarkable graduates of a ground-breaking program of self-development known as Kimberley and Pilbara Girl.
The world of fashion, with its star-studded catwalks and designer gear may be the goal of many young women, but Kimberley and Pilbara Girl offers a far more realistic and empowering experience!
Although the program includes fashion modelling and culminates in a designer catwalk extravaganza,appearance is not a selection criteria. Founded by former model and philanthropic visionary Kira Fong, and run by Goolarri Media Enterprises in Broome, this is a personal and professional development program for Indigenous women from 16 to 25 years old from a diverse range of backgrounds.
Many young Aboriginal women feel too shy to participate in an ‘image-focused’ program, but there is now overwhelmingly positive feedback from past participants, and this has driven the program’s growth from Broome into the Kimberley, to the Pilbara and more recently into the Goldfields.
Each year Kimberley and Pilbara Girl takes young women from regional towns and remote communities through a transformational journey and gives them a once in a lifetime opportunity to rise to their full potential. Participants have commented that it is a rewarding and eye-opening experience meeting and forging relationships with girls who have grown up in communities where life can be significantly different from theirs (in both good ways and bad).
They are taught to resist disempowering and judging others and the value of working cooperatively as a team. Qualified and committed mentors conduct training in health and hygiene, presentation, media presence, public speaking, work readiness, personal development, anger management and overcoming adversity. The girls have found that this process allows them to develop confidence and a deep sense of pride in their heritage, community and culture.
The program’s media related activities include developing and performing scripts for their video presentation, being interviewed by journalists and filmed by Goolarri’s camera crew. The finished videos give insight into the lives of the young women and showcase their journey through the program.
In the words of one participant: “This is the real stuff, where changes happen.” Another says “It makes me feel beautiful and confident.”
The shift from shyness to confidence is visible and tangible, and provides deep satisfaction for those volunteers and mentors who return each year to render their assistance. In the words of the 2015 Kimberley Girl winner Darrylin Gordon, “The word(s) being ‘proud of myself’ didn’t have any meaning for me before Kimberley Girl and it does now. The first week workshops (heats) teaches you how to be proud of yourself, reminding yourself of who you are and the goals you want to set, how to get there, who you need help from to get there. It has helped me so much.”
To date, over 500 girls have graduated across three regions. The impact this has is extraordinary. The girls take their new confidence and skills back into their communities where the ripple effects on friends and family are ongoing.
Once they have completed the program, and celebrated at a gala performance and presentation night for the entire community, the girls know how to present themselves in a work environment, and conduct themselves with confidence and grace. Employers of Kimberley Girl graduates are overwhelmingly positive about the program, and often become long term supporters.
Inaugural sponsors Broome and Chinatown Pharmacies immediately saw the potential of the program and continue to be strong advocates and sponsorship supporters. Both businesses have employed graduates and the new owners have embraced the program wholeheartedly on the recommendation of the previous owners and their local staff.
Goolarri are continuously on the hunt for assistance in funding. Kira Fong the program’s founder says “No matter how much we demonstrate the incredible outcomes, we have yet to establish a structure of support for the girls once they have completed the program. Our program is so unique that we don’t fit normal funding criteria. It works because it’s different, but it misses essential funding for the same reason."