Earlier this week, I had the privilege of attending the opening of the Enlighten for Equity sculptures within the Wagga Beach Riverside Precinct along the mighty Marrambidya Bila.
Hundreds of local primary and high school students were engaged in this youth-led participatory industrial design and lighting project, working together under the guidance of teachers, artists, and other professionals.
Seeing these wonderful sculptures in place is affirmation of what an amazing community we live in, knowing that so many individuals and organisations collaborated to create a space that reflects the ongoing process of change.
The riverside area, like our community, is being transformed.
The sculptures are a visual representation of yindyamara - respect, gentleness, kindness, to give honour, go slow and take responsibility.
The messages about equity and equality, diversity and inclusion, remind us that everyone in our community belongs.
The Enlighten for Equity sculpture walk, nestled next to the river that has sustained this land for generations, creates spaces that provide opportunity for people to sit, reflect, and have conversations about what we want our community to look and feel like.
The initiative was initiated and implemented as part of the DV Project 2650, a multi-faceted primary prevention program conducted by Wagga Wagga City Council under the auspices of the Wagga Women's Health Centre.
In 2015, the centre used part of a donation from the Wollundry Rotary Club to commission research which would provide an insight into what domestic abuse looked like in our region, and the knowledge and attitudes held by our community.
The initial research revealed that our reported rates of domestic abuse in our area were 29 per cent higher than the state average, but residents had only a vague awareness of the issues and addressing the problem was not a priority at that time.
The research project was unique, innovative, and so important, and formed the basis on which the centre was successful in securing a grant from Women's NSW in 2018 to fund the DV Project 2650.
The initial phase of the DV Project 2650 ran for three years from 2018-21, seeking to change the attitudes, social norms and structures that support and enable domestic abuse.
The objective of the whole-of-community approach was to enable residents to increase their knowledge and capability, their investment in the issue, and ultimately become agents of change.
The initial phase of the program was incredibly successful, reflected in the follow up research which shows local residents are now more aware of what domestic abuse is, and how rigid gender stereotypes and inequality underlie the issue.
More people feel comfortable identifying and speaking about abuse, using practical strategies to assist both victim survivors and perpetrators when needed.
There is, however, more work to do to eradicate the blight of abuse and violence from our society.
We must keep the momentum of community change going, and the sculptures created as part of the DV Project are an important part of that.
While we can pass laws and create policies in an attempt to eliminate domestic abuse and other forms of violence, they can only achieve so much.
Shifting community attitudes and behaviours requires both individual and collective approaches.
Real and lasting change is never easy and can only be achieved when people believe in and commit to it.
As captured in this year's Reconciliation Week Theme, we need to be brave to make change.
To make a better community, we each need to get out of our comfort zone, to reflect, to grow, and to act.
The students who worked on these Enlighten for Equity sculptures are pivotal to community change and are to be congratulated on what they have created, alongside the people who supported them.
Art has the capacity to touch our hearts and minds in such a profound way.
A permanent legacy to our region's commitment to change, these sculptures have the potential to impact the lives of people now, and through the generations.
As people walk along the riverside, the QR codes attached to each sculpture tell the story of the process the students followed, the inspirations for their designs, and what the participants learnt about respect and equity, collaboration, and themselves.
The insights are powerful and highlight the incredible talent, ability, and potential of this generation.
You can find out more about the Enlighten for Equity sculptures on the Wagga Wagga City Council website.
Better still, take some time out to visit, wander, and view the works for yourself.
Perhaps, like me, you will leave the space feeling hopeful and confident that together we can create a better, safer, and more inclusive community for the benefit of everyone.
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