Education partnership empowers communities, one school week at a time

Story and Images by Janne Rytkonen

The busy 2023 school year wrapped up in December for the Laynhapuy Homelands School (LHS) in Arnhem Land, and Principal Abi White was pleased by the achievements of 2023.

“We’ve had a good year and it looks like 2024 will mirror this success,” she said. “Attendance at our senior secondary Makarraṯa program’s been high and steady, and we’ve got seven graduates coming up at the end of the year. “

The cargo pods on a GA8 aircraft can carry a surprising amount of freight, including crates of school resources. Pilot Anton Zhang and Principal Abigail White.

Secondary Programs Senior Teacher, Sophie Grambeau, said, “Looking ahead, it’ll be a nice kind of group that are in it together and excited for it, I think. We often get students asking ‘When, when do I get my time?’ and ‘It’s my turn to go.’ So, I think they’re excited.”

Teachers and teacher aides fly out weekly with MAF to homeland schools for primary school-aged students, and senior high school students fly into the Garrthalala homeland weekly to board at the Makarraṯa College. Driving would take up to 40% of the school week.

Teacher Casey Taylor leads her class in a nose-blowing exercise as a warm-up activity before the lesson.

“You’d just be spending all of Monday and all of Friday driving and then you would be paying qualified teachers to be taxi drivers,” said Abi. “Air travel is expensive, but it’s fast, it’s safe, it’s efficient for time, and it means teachers are maximising their time on the ground.”

The school sits in the centre of the small homeland community of Bremer Island.

The flexibility and cultural sensitivity of the LHS-MAF partnership has proved an empowering combination for Mamidal, a student from the Waṉḏawuy homeland. Mamidal is one of the upcoming graduates, and he will start work as a ranger next year.

“Mamidal is a real success story of Makarraṯa,” said Abi White. “He was a disengaged student, highly mobile, and just found his place in Makarraṯa. The team really nurtured him, and he’s been on the straight and narrow. The other students call him ‘Ralpa Boy’, which means diligent or hardworking, which is not how he would have viewed himself five years ago.”

Mamidal’s time flying to school on MAF planes is drawing to a close as he prepares to graduate and step into the world of work.

Missing the school bus flight on a Monday would result in a whole week of missed school, so MAF pilots often go the extra mile to ensure their young passengers make it to the classroom.

“If it wasn’t for MAF, then the students wouldn’t physically be here, so we wouldn’t be able to run our program,” says Secondary Programs Teacher Sophie Grambeau. “There’s been times where we’ve seen pilots walk into a community that’s one kilometre away to check if the students are there, so they don’t miss the plane for school.”

Pilot Ethan McMaster unloads Mamidal’s and Megan’s bags for a week of boarding at the Makarraṯa College in Garrthalala.

Pilot Anton Zhang explains what the work means to the MAF team.

“I find it a privilege and a joy to be able to serve remote communities practically by flying the school bus and to be that familiar face who picks up and drops off the students week after week,” he said.

“The students really get to know us, and they often refer to me by my Yolngu name ‘Wurrpan’ which means ’emu’.”

 

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Additional information

In 2023, MKK flew 257 passengers, including teachers, staff and students on 71 education flights. Note: one flight often comprises several legs (take-offs and landings), and MAF Arnhem Land operates 7 other aircraft that also fly education flights.

In 2023, MQR flew 295 passengers, including teachers, staff and students on 84 education flights. Note: one flight often comprises several legs (take-offs and landings), and MAF Arnhem Land operates 7 other aircraft that also fly education flights.

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