"The Future in Youth program has been a most wonderful, exciting yet very challenging and demanding social exercise."
- Dr Paul Callery
Future in Youth (FIY) is part of ACU's commitment in Timor-Leste – the 3rd program to kick off after Education and Health.
ACU's School of Exercise Science and Institute for Advancing Community Engagement collaborate with local partners to develop the Timorese love of Football (soccer) in an after-school sport program that builds community and improves health, wellbeing and life-skills of young people.
High drop-out rates from secondary schools and nearly 100% youth unemployment in Baucau affect young people particularly. With over 60% of the population under 24, the risk of anti-social behaviour, crime and gang violence among disaffected youth is high.
Since 2010, staff and students from the School of Exercise Science (Team ACU) have conducted the three-week FIY program each year. In 2014, a student from the School of Nursing joined the team to develop the health side of the project.
FIY fosters the values of "fun", "fair" and "respect." In just four years, FIY has reached out to more than 2500 young people, 137 coaches and 90 parents in Baucau.
Including female students in Team ACU encourages equal opportunity for Timorese girls and young women, challenging gender conventions excluding them from sport, exercise and leadership roles, and showing that females can play as skillfully as males and can hold positions of responsibility.
In the past, a local coach explains, "Most of the time children do not play against each other because they are afraid." FIY is working with the Baucau community to change that situation.
"The most important thing is that I can learn from ACU people about football skill and later on I can teach same thing to my kids," says another coach, reflecting coaches' strong motivation to help the children from their bairo (local area).
There are encouraging indications that the community is willing to establish its own sporting infrastructure based on "fun", "fair," and "respect." Participation, rather than competition, is a vital feature of FIY.
"Seeing the kids shake hands before and after a game was a highlight for me," says Ross Smith. "This powerful gesture of unity and respect is now an integral part of the game for these kids. They didn't shake hands before we came.
Only time will tell if this attitude becomes ingrained in the wider Timorese community – but you've got to start somewhere."
Change is happening; as one young participant says: "I felt happy because we got to know our friends from other villages."