In the 2008 film Australia, the love story between handsome Hugh Jackman and petrified Nicole Kidman is front and center. But youth workers who saw this film probably most remember Nullah, the half-Aboriginal boy caught between the white cattle-farming culture and the pull of his ancestral roots and way of life. Nullah survives in the "new" Australia but sets out on a walkabout -- a ritual Aboriginal journey -- to discover for himself what he needs to know from his land and his people.
Next month, 15 Minnesota youth workers will begin a year of Walkabout. It is a new fellowship program in which youth workers will rediscover the essence of the work they do and find innovative, practical ways to demonstrate for others their expertise, talents, accountability and commitment to high-quality youth work. Like Nullah, they'll trace old paths, learning of heroic deeds, sharing stories and connecting with other wise people. In walkabout tradition, they will leave something behind - not a stone or totem but writings of what they have learned.
We will learn from their journey. At year's end, our Walkabout fellows will lead groups of people who care about the future of youth work and try to figure out answers to three questions:
- Is it worthwhile to adopt a broadly shared set of youth work values, principles and ethics?
- Does it matter if we consider youth work as a field, a discipline, a profession or a practice?
- What would a creative system of expectations and accountability for youth work look like?
This isn't your normal Youth Work Institute class or process. It's an experiment. If this all sounds crazy to you, let me put it in perspective. For four or five years now, different groups have been meeting to discuss the importance of quality in our work and to figure out ways to address the calls for credentialing and certification, as well as calls to adopt various standards and competencies for youth workers. It's raised a lot of questions. What is this work and what is required to do it? How can we prove quality and expertise to young people, families, organizations and funders? What kind of system would allow youth work to blossom and grow, not feel constricted and inflexible?
The Walkabout will tap into practitioner wisdom about these questions. So if you're a youth worker, one of our Walkabout fellows may contact you to ask your story and your views. Please respond if they do! We want to hear your creative ideas and heartfelt recommendations for addressing these sticky issues.
Our Walkabout fellows will be using a brand new book, Advancing Youth Work, as one guide or "songline" for their journey. Check it out! The author Dana Fusco, will be in Minnesota to share her ideas with us all at a symposium here in early November.
I hope this blog entry sparks your interest in the Walkabout. We'll be talking about it more as things start to happen. What do you hope to learn from our fellows?
As the Tourism Australia ad campaign of 2008 noted:
"Sometimes we need to get lost to find ourselves.
Sometimes, we got to go walkabout."