A Northern Territory fundraising project to install a 6kW solar system at a remote camp for at-risk kids could save the lives of 20 indigenous teenagers each year.
The Balunu Foundation has a clear objective; they deliver cultural healing to Indigenous kids at risk of suicide living in the Northern Territory.
It’s a sad fact, but the territory has the highest youth suicide rate per capita in the world – between 1991 and 2010, the percentage of Indigenous suicides as a proportion of all suicides, grew from 5% to 80%, with 10 to 24 year olds at the highest risk.
This horrific statistic is partly due to the loss of cultural identity and traditional ways, language barriers and family breakdown, but can also be attributed to intergenerational trauma dating back to the days of the stolen generation, according to Dave Cole from the Balunu Foundation.
“To redress the physical, emotional and spiritual damage experienced by by these kids we run a nine day healing camp, for ten kids at a time,” says Dave.
“The primary objective is to provide them with a culturally appropriate place to heal; we confront the trauma through the generations and they get a break from the day to day challenges and also reconnect with their identity.”
Dave, who founded Balunu along with wife Mim in 2006, says they’ve helped over 700 kids in that time, by helping to break cycles of disadvantage through an education program that focuses on health and fitness, life skills and making the most of opportunities.
The camp, located an hour out of Darwin by boat, also aims to alleviate mental illness with activities run by youth workers, such as traditional fishing methods, basket weaving, music and stories.
However, he says that simply allowing the kids to heal has been the most important aspect of the camp.
“All the kids want to commit suicide when we meet them, but we’ve never been to one funeral,” says Dave. “By reaffirming a strong connection to culture and identity, we can create positive cycles of empowerment for Indigenous youth, people and families.”
While Balunu – which means ‘creation’ in the Luritja language of central Australia – has proven it’s success, the costs of running the program, in particular the diesel generators to power the remote camp, are threatening it’s survival.
“It costs $15,000 a year to run the generators,” says Dave. “That’s the same as helping another 20 kids each year to reconnect with their culture and find meaning in their lives.”
“We decided to approach The People’s Solar to crowd fund for a stand along power system, which will be around $40,000.”
The system includes automatic start of a backup diesel generator if required and has been designed to maximise battery life (10 years+).The 6kW solar system, for which they have already chosen a supplier, will consist of a Selectronic inverter charger, an ABB inverter and 12 x 2V/1105 Sonnenschein gel batteries, along with all delivery and installation and an auto-start back up generator.
The battery bank, chosen by Dave because they are completely recyclable, have a minimum ten year life span, meaning over 200 kids could be helped by Balunu before the batteries have to be replaced.
Alex Houlston from crowd funding platform The People’s Solar says to reach the total needed by Balunu would be hard, but two weeks after launching the crowd funding project over 11% had been raised.
“Projects like this are a very rare coming together of social impact, environmental benefits and very good value for money,” says Alex.
“For every $200 tax deductible donation, a place is created for an additional young Indigenous Adult to participate in the Balunu program, all while replacing diesel fuel with clean energy.”
The foundation, which has also been hit by cuts in government funding, will continue to promote their solar project until the total is raised, says Dave.
“We’re not lying down, we’re going to keep fundraising and advocating for these kids in need.”
You can find out more about the Balunu Foundation and their fundraising project at The People’s Solar website.
Emma Sutcliffe is a journalist, climate activist & proud owner of an off-grid property in Little River, near Melbourne. As Contributing Editor to One Step Off The Grid she meets other off-gridders, a job that makes use of her considerable skills for nattering & drinking tea. If you’d like to share your story, she’d love to hear from you.