23 February 2015 | General Interest
SNAICC is proud to launch the latest digital story in our plight to raise awareness about the work of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander integrated early years services.
Berrimba Child Care Centre is a Multifunctional Aboriginal Children’s Service based in Echuca, Victoria. Berrimba means “Forever Learning”. Berrimba has been an important part of the Echuca community for over 30 years. It provides a culturally safe, welcoming and supportive learning envirnoment for many Aboriginal children to start their life-long journey with education. The staff work hard to make the children and families feel welcome and part of the community, and to connect them to culture.
Berrimba provides a range of services, including long day care, transport, Aboriginal Best Start, support to access funding for mainstream kindergarten services and much, much more. Berrimba is more like a family than a child care centre, with local Aboriginal Elders always dropping by. Culture is not only taught specifically to the children, but is an important part of everyday life at the centre.
SNAICC takes no credit for the passion, drive and commitment Berrrimba and the Echuca community show in this digital story. It is an honour, however, to have worked with them on this story and to be able to highlight the incredible strength and determination of the staff and community to ensure every Aboriginal child who attends the service has the best start to their educational life.
We wish to acknowledge Njernda Aboriginal Corporation as the licensor of Berrimba and the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development for funding the production of this digital story.
Aunty Melva Johnson, Elder, Victorian Aboriginal Education Association Inc Life Member
Things were pretty bad in Echuca. Echuca was a pretty racist little town. We were only allowed two Aboriginal kids at kinder a year, and lots of our children went through what was called a special grade – all the Aboriginal kids, through their entire schooling. And I think that’s disgusting.
My cousin and I used to fight – well, not fight, but really try hard – to get our children in there, because we realised the importance of our kids knowing other children before they went to school.
Karlisha Egan, Parent
The key ingredients in the success of this centre is the commitment of the staff over the last 25 years.
Aunty Melva Johnson
When we started it was like a playgroup. This was a really old house here. But we were so proud of it. And the children started coming and kept coming.
It was a hard fight. The way I’m talking now, it was so easy, but we had a lot of support.
We wanted out kids to gel together. We wanted our children to know who they were, who their families were, and who they were related to. Everyone was aunty and uncle. Respect. That was the main thing we wanted our children to do. Because you live in a town and you can get lost.
Christina Drummond, Principle Lockington Consolidated School
I’ve worked with a lot of early childhood centres in my job as transition coordinator as Echuca East Primary School and what makes Berrimba stand out is that these kids are getting the best possible start in a culturally appropriate setting, and then they’re coming to us at school with that confidence.
Kellyann Edwards, Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD) – Koorie Engagement Support Officer (KESO)
When they come to Berrimba they see their connections. They physically see them because they’re playing with their cousins, their aunties are teaching them. They’re nurtured by their mob. I think that’s the best part about Berrimba and it’s something that makes it unique. And it’s culturally relevant for us.
Joyce Ward, Parent & Berrimba Childcare, Team Leader 3-5 Room
I started at Berrimba as a child. I would have been three or four years old. My dad’s auntie worked here. I became a mum young. And Berrimba’s always supported me through my parenting.
For some parents it’s a connection to get help with parenting; it’s a connection to connect with other families; it opens up conversations about their children and what we can do to best support them.
I would like to send some of our teachers in here to watch the practitioners in here – how they relate to the children; their knowledge of early childhood.
The staff here gave us invaluable information on how to make school successful for these students.
To help kids be school-ready, the school that I’m based at currently at Echuca East, we’ll get one of the lead prep teachers to come in and just start making those connections with the kids here because this is a safe environment for them; this is something that they know.
Berrimba encourages all the children that come through here to get into the mainstream kinders once they’ve come through playgroup and then the three-year-old kinder. Because that gets them ready for school.
We provide breakfast, morning tea, lunch, and afternoon tea.
I’ve talked to parents who haven’t had the time to make a lunch for their kids, or whatever. And Aunty Vic will say, “Don’t worry about it. We’ll make sure they’ve got their lunch.” And then they’ll take them on their bus run.
So it’s not just a day care centre, or anything like that. They look after the whole child and the whole family.
The buses are an important part in our community as we have a lot of parents that don’t have cars and everything, and we need their kids in here to help them get an education and get ready for their transition into school.
Aunty Melva Johnson
Some parents haven’t got cars. But I think the biggest challenge is the funding now. I think it’s really hard for some to be able to come.
Yvonne McKenner, Parent / Berrimba Childcare, Team Leader Toddlers room
There’s a lot of single parents, as well, which…they [can barely] pay now, so imagine if [it was] a lot more expensive. There’s no way…it would not be a good thing. It would be very negative.
With this centre it’s affordable. As a working mum myself, I don’t think I could work in this role if I had to utilise main stream. I’d probably have to not work, because I wouldn’t be able to afford that.
Berrimba supports the children and the families’ wellbeing by making links between other services that will address the issues that they’re facing.
And I think they do that in a really culturally sensitive way, whereas other preschools or childcare centres don’t have that knowledge of how to do it in a culturally sensitive way.
Leona Cooper, Berrimba Childcare, Kindergarten Assistant
I’ve been here for three years, and I’ve been supported in studying through TAFE, and now I’m doing my Bachelor in Geelong. So they are very flexible and help me to obtain my studies and my certificates.
I want to be a good role model to kids and show them the importance of what it’s like to work, and that you can help out.
The base of Berrimba and being an Aboriginal centre is meaning they’ve got this foundation of identity, that then they’re willing to share with others. So I think that’s extremely important.
Aunty Melva Johnson
You can face anything if you know who you are. Kids can call you what they like, and teachers can look down their noses at you, but if you know who you are you can fight.
As a kid here, the friendships I made – I still am close to a lot of kids I went to [childcare with] here.
This is really a best-case practice that I look at of how to transition Indigenous children into school.
We’re going to have strong koori kids in our community, and hopefully strong koori leaders in the future. That’s why we’ve got strong leaders in our community today –– because we’ve all been through here.
I couldn’t see Echuca without it. I’d be very upset if this was never here for my great nieces, or anyone else in this community. This is where they learn to know who they are.
Understanding who we are and how we all connect is the heart of having this service and it’s for the best of the children, and to see them go on to become educated, and off to uni.
You see kids walking past here that have been through Berrimba – now they’re at school, or they’re at high school – and they all still stop in here to say hello to Aunty Vicki, or say hello Aunty Lou Lou, or whoever their workers were, or just to come to see their cousins. Because sometimes within the community you’re dispersed, and sometimes you live your own little lives. But when you’ve got places like Berrimba it brings it all together.
I’ve been through here; my kids are coming through here; my nephews are coming through here; our cousins. Hopefully it will still be here so my kids’ kids can come through here.
You know that you’re kids not just a number. They’re being supported in here. We try our hardest to make them feel loved.
Aunty Melva Johnson
They’ve got somewhere safe they can come to; or to feel good if things are not going too good at home. I think it’s the best thing we’ve done in Echuca.
Thanks to the Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development for their funding support for the development of this digital story.
Thanks to the staff and community of Berrimba
Video produced by Stuart Mannion