Students Ryan Loader and Liam Hammer have always found it a challenge working with people.
But in eight days everything changed after the boys came back from a gruelling 100-kilometre hike through South Australia’s Flinders Ranges.
Nine young people aged between 13 and 17 from the Latrobe Valley Flexible Learning Option and Kurnai College joined Operation Flinders, a program that aims to rebuild children’s self-confidence and people skills through various exercises in an unfamiliar place.
The goal was to help young people in difficult circumstances to see life at a different angle and face challenges head-on without having to opt out.
For Ryan the most difficult part of the activity was the long daily trek and creating teamwork with other participants.
“I got back different than I went there, it was a good experience,” Ryan said.
For 17-year-old Liam, the experience taught him to work with others.
“Before that I just liked to work on my own,” he said.
Apart from the daily 20km hike over rocky terrains, participants were made to finish tasks such as abseiling, team building activities, bush survival skills, navigation and first aid skills, and an understanding of Aboriginal culture and the history of the Flinders Ranges.
Ryan said abseiling helped him conquer his fear of heights and plans to try parachuting in the future.
Two teachers from the participating schools and Morwell Constable Thomas O’Day accompanied the team from Latrobe Valley.
Const O’Day said he would definitely encourage his colleagues to try Operation Flinders to gain a different experience with young people.
“It shows you a different side to some of the kids in the community that police often don’t get to see and I think it’s important to see the changes that are enabled to be made in the kids in such a very short period of time,” he told The Express.
“I guess a lot of times when policemen deal with youth it’s in negative circumstances, It was good to spend time with kids outside of that and for them to see police are people as well.”
Const O’Day said there were a lot of complaining from the participants at the start of the exercises but everyone went home a different person after finishing the program.