Beginning on Yorta Yorta Country, social service organisation Ganbina is supporting the education journeys of Indigenous youth.

Describing itself as the nation’s “most successful Indigenous school to work transition program”, Ganbina is running programs in areas including Shepparton and the Goulburn Valley in Victoria, and Townsville and Bundaberg in Queensland.

The organisation began in Shepparton in 1997 and is a 50-year program set to achieve generational change and economic equality for young Aboriginal people.

Supporting children from the age of six to 25, the program has an average graduation rate of 91 per cent and had 72 per cent of participants engage in work — compared with the national average for Indigenous youth, which sits at 58 per cent.

Ganbina chief executive and Taungurung man Anthony Cavanagh has been with the organisation since 2013, coming on board after three decades in community services.

“I am privileged to be in the position I am in. I feel that we are making such progress towards closing the gap for young ones — with deep, long-term fixes, not quick, band-aid fixes,” Mr Cavanagh told the National Indigenous Times.

“The beauty with Ganbina is that we are doing something that is well on the way to tearing some of those (colonial) structures down.

“It is a real risk and threat to the current structures because the program is not only a lot cheaper than others, but it does a lot more and has a lot more impact.

“We understand each community is different and they have needs that are central to that place — our model works because it is in the hands of that community.”

Ganbina provides voluntary long-term programs and provides each child with a case worker to ensure a holistic and culturally safe approach.

“We are unique in a lot of ways . . . we don’t have a mentoring program because we mentor every day. Every minute of every day we mentor,” Mr Cavanagh said.

“When students get to 13 and are in high school, they are case-managed. Every child has a case manager, right through until they are 25 years.

“Regardless of what program they do, they have that person with them. That’s what I mean when I say that we mentor every day.”

Having previously been government-funded, the organisation moved to the philanthropic model in 2005, Mr Cavanagh said.

“We thought how could we ask families to walk away from government supports when we are receiving government money,” he said.

“That was a big driver for us along with the ability to be a bit more flexible.”

“People are investing in our kids. They are providing money and resources to build their aspirations and reach for achievements. That is an investment in community.”

Moving into the future, Ganbina has aspirations to work alongside governments and to see their model operating in communities across the country and internationally.

However, despite its growing capacity, Ganbina’s core principle is self-determination. With its roots strongly in Shepparton, that community remains its top priority.

“Our core priority is the Shepparton model … we will never take the ball off Shepparton,” Mr Cavanagh said.

“We are 25 years old next year, we are halfway in our 50 years … but we remember that we are about Shepparton, and that community.”

By Rachael Knowles