8 March 2011
The A.R.A.B program is a vivid illustration of Melbourne's cultural diversity. Commencing in 2003 as a Victorian Arabic Social Services (VASS) initiative in response to the racial vilification experienced by Arabic youth following the events of September 11, A.R.A.B aims to create meaningful, consistent and long-term opportunities to engage with youth from the culturally diverse northern suburbs of Melbourne.
Recognising that racism, gang culture and discrimination against and between young people in the region were also fuelled by low self-esteem and a lack of creative outlets across all cultural groupings, the A.R.A.B youth performing arts project reaches out to youth aged between 12 and 25 of any cultural background. Its aims are diverse; from challenging racial tensions and promoting social inclusion, to increasing confidence and self-esteem, the A.R.A.B project today engages with more than 250 young people from 50 different nationalities and 40 religious backgrounds.
Structured as four interlinked platforms, the A.R.A.B program engages participants in weekly rehearsals, special projects, employment and training, a public gigging program and a major annual artistic performance. The creative opportunities are broad and eclectic and include rap, hip hop, body percussion, belly dance, traditional and contemporary music, comedy, krump, dancehall, stomp and parkour.
"The program is as diverse as the cultural background of its participants," said Marline. "It fuses traditional and street dance forms with theatre, spoken word, original music and video. All A.R.A.B performances are underpinned with local stories and themes of cultural and suburban identity, so it aims to capture the imagination and interest of all participants."
Through all its activities, small and large, A.R.A.B aims to significantly strengthen a young person's self worth, practical skills and self-motivation so they can apply this ‘currency' in their school, social, cultural, and artistic settings. There are also obvious flow-on effects in their adult lives at work, with family and in the broader community.
Whilst the nature of the program and its community development focus mean the outcomes and benefits are measured over the long term, there are some very obvious short-term measures.
"We've had a noticeable increase in the number of youth involved in additional gigs, workshops and events, so the program's activities obviously resonate with participants," said Marline. "Recently, the ‘masquerade' crew from the Brunswick Secondary College Language Centre came onto the gig circuit and performed at an indigenous event for the City Of Melbourne. To witness their enthusiasm and commitment first-hand gives you a snapshot of the impact of the program. They've been mentored by program workers and guest artists and will be further supported and up-skilled throughout the year, so the commitment to participants is ongoing."
Whilst the program has had very strong and positive responses from the youth it engages with, the A.R.A.B project has not been without its challenges.
"The demand from youth in the area outweighs the resources of our program. The mentoring and employment pathways generated by our creative projects have been fantastic, but often outweigh the resources A.R.A.B VASS can coordinate," said Marline. "We also find that quite often, the short-term funding agreements put increased pressure on our project teams, because the real impact takes place over a longer timeframe. Our programs need time and a long-term focus before the real benefits for participants are reaped."
Whilst the A.R.A.B project receives some Government funding, grants from other philanthropic organisations are critically important to the long-term maintenance of the program.
"The joint three-year grant from the Bennelong Foundation and Dubai Duty Free Foundation enabled us to employ a community development officer and an events worker. They work closely with participants, school and community partners on tailoring activities to better suit those having difficulty integrating into the program. The new staff have already been able to strengthen and formalise our two community development platforms, as well as engage a number of youth who were on the cusp of completely dropping-out of program activities," said Marline.A.R.A.B program workers have also been able to work more closely with a number of the female participants experiencing challenges around issues such as lack of confidence, homelessness and familial conflict. "These outcomes could not have happened without the grant funds for the new workers," said Marline. "The ongoing support from our partners is invaluable."
For more information on the A.R.A.B program, visit http://arab-vass.com/
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