It was 9.45pm on Wednesday, 14 July this year when University of Sydney staff member Irene Wardle sent an “urgent” email, which someone copied and pasted onto the University’s internal messaging service.
I am on the Board for an Aboriginal Out-Of-Home-Care Organisation called Narang Bir-rong. We cater for Aboriginal children in care. Due to the lockdown, our families are in crisis, and we are looking for donations of working second-hand computers. If you have any lying around at home that are no longer being used, could you please consider donating them to our worthy charity.
Ms Wardle, a Darug woman and Aboriginal Research Partnerships Manager at the Research Centre for Children and Families in the School of Education & Social Work, was hoping to receive 15 computers. At last count, Narang Bir-rong has been pledged over 150 from various personal donors.
“The response has been absolutely beautiful,” she said.
The 15 computers she initially hoped for were for 15 vulnerable families – those at high-risk of entry to out-of-home care within Western Sydney.
“I wanted to target Aboriginal high school kids – the ones we really need to finish school, as 35 percent won’t,” she said.
Aside from facilitating online school learning, Ms Wardle explained how computers could be “life-changing” for Aboriginal children: visits from social workers are currently prohibited due to COVID-19 stay-at-home orders. So, when children login to online classrooms, teachers can see that they’re there, and that they’re safe.
As well as keeping Aboriginal children engaged with education, the computers can also prevent unnecessary visits from child protection services. It is government protocol to send an officer to check on children who don’t attend school. Due to the ‘digital divide’ between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal families, with online schooling, this can result in unwelcome visits when children can’t access the internet.
“During the pandemic, many Aboriginal children are staying with Elders in the community, to keep one another company,” Ms Wardle said. “These Elders don’t have internet, let alone computers, and if nan and pop don’t have credit on their phones and are too scared to walk to the children’s school because of COVID to tell the principal about the children’s absence from online schooling, the police and child protection services can become involved.”
Ms Wardle was one of the authors of a recently published research report with this finding.
The response was almost instantaneous, with people going out of their way to supply computers to Narang Bir-rong. Suzanne Pope, Program Manager at the University’s Research Centre for Children and Families, purchased three new laptops to donate. Associate Professor Lynette Riley shared the email with Stephen Elbourn, Managing Director, ITIC Systems, and Director of Yirigaa, who donated 15 computers. Nataasha Baker, Senior Business Analyst at the University, shared the post with her neighbourhood network and sourced six devices. The donation drive snowballed from there. Bronwyn Covill from Need a Tutor even offered free tutoring to vulnerable school-aged children.
“Thanks to the huge response, we can now have our sights on all our school age children in the out-of-home care of Narang Bir-rong receiving a device and other support. This will directly help vulnerable children who are the true victims of disadvantage,” Ms Wardle said.
If you would like to donate a computer, please contact Heidi Bradshaw, CEO, Narang Bir-rong, via Caitlin Marlor, Administration Officer: (02) 4761 4000, firstname.lastname@example.org