For many, a leader is someone who simply leads a team – someone who stands out in a crowd. While this is a fair representation of what a leader is, the REAL Program encourages participants to understand that you don’t have to have the loudest voice in the room – you simply just need to have one.

The REAL Program was designed in conjunction with the Korin Gamadji Institute (KGI) and YMCA to engage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth, aged 14 to 17, to develop their leadership skills and understanding of what it means to be a leader in today’s society.

The program has four main focus areas: leadership, cultural awareness, health and wellbeing and career pathways. Across the week, participants are encouraged to step out of their comfort zones and break down these four focus areas.

Each participant that comes through the program is nominated by a member of their community for showing an act of leadership – great or small. They then start their journey as a Phase 1 participant – Korin, meaning grow. That’s exactly what Phase 1 is all about, growing as a leader and establishing what makes a good leader. At the commencement of the program, they can then implement the skills and knowledge back into their communities until they return as a Phase 2 participant.

Phase 2 is all about emerging as a leader, as the name Gamadji suggests. Phase 2 is all about inspiring and encouraging participants to utilise the skills and knowledge they have learnt across the two programs, when they to go back to their communities or return as a peer leader.

Growing up I was never really taught much about the Indigenous culture but was always exposed to the stereotypes and perceptions people had on what it meant to be an Indigenous Australian. I made the decision in 2015 to get involved and step out of my comfort zone. Having been involved in four REAL Programs and numerous other opportunities within the KGI and YMCA communities, I now have a strong appreciation for the world’s oldest living culture. The program has made me more culturally aware and also have a better understanding of past, current and future Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders.

Along the way I have learnt so many new and exciting things – not only from the participants and facilitators, but also working with incredible volunteers. The program has helped me discover a passion for working with youth, but in particular Indigenous youth.

Having a program that is helping to discover and develop the future leaders of tomorrow, whist also engaging them to be proud of their culture, is so inspiring to see. It’s great to have the KGI and YMCA working alongside one another to take the first steps forwards providing programs like these, and creating opportunities for participants beyond the REAL Program.

Being a non-Indigenous women and volunteer, I am humbled, inspired and proud to have the opportunity to walk alongside the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island young people as they begin their journey with the KGI.