COS is not a company just focused on success; it’s a company that focuses on doing what’s right, on helping others and on changing the world one step at a time. It’s because of these key values that founder and CEO Dominique Lyone started The Lyone Foundation. The foundation is an opportunity to give back to the Australian community after they so generously supported and helped Dom and his family when they first arrived. (Learn more at COS Australian Story). The Lyone foundation see Australia as one community. No matter which state or territory you live in, we are all Australians and we all need to look out for each other. That is Dom’s, COS’ and the Lyone Foundation’s mission.
Recently the foundation along with Muru Group took up the opportunity to support a program for Indigenous children under 5 in far North Queensland. The aim is to give these children an education that betters their chances of success in both primary and high school and also in the work force after graduation. I, along with COS executive, Belinda Lyone and CEO of Muru Group, Mitchell Ross decided to visit the remote community. The experience was both confronting and rewarding. Many of the women had five or more children but were only up to five-eight years my senior, making them all in their late twenties. It was revealed to me that if a child is born Indigenous and/or Torres Strait Islander they are five times more likely to be born to a teenage mother. Along with this, an Indigenous and/or Torres Strait Islander’s life expectancy is reduced by 11.5% for males and 9.7% for females than those of non-Indigenous Australians.
I was and still am saddened by the fact that these children are disadvantaged based on circumstances they can’t control. Their lives are restricted based on external factors which they didn’t choose, such as who their parents are or where they were born. I began to feel guilty but grateful for the stroke of luck I’d received, not by being born in Australia, not even by being born in Sydney but by being born to two parents who were financially equipped to give me the best opportunities possible. I never realised how lucky I was and how lucky many of us are and take it for granted. The Indigenous Australians in this community are up to 20 to 30% less likely to meet the national reading and numeracy standards. Which is an astronomical amount if you really think about it. Yet the children were so happy, blissfully unaware of their circumstance and their happiness was encouraging. I realised the importance of supporting this program, in giving Indigenous children the same opportunity I had; to learn and develop the necessary skills to be at the same standard as other children when they started school.
However the program didn’t just pull at the heartstrings from the viewpoint of challenges in education and learning but it also focused on an important issue of ‘Closing the Gap’. Close the Gap is a concept focused on closing the differences between opportunities of Indigenous and/or Torres Strait Islander children and non-Indigenous Australians. The playgroup is open to anyone, no matter their background allowing for “mixed culture” classes. This teaches the children that all Australians are equal and all deserving of the same opportunities no matter their cultural background. No one is born racist; from the get-go these children are able to grow up, learn and develop with others in an open and encouraging environment. Children don’t see skin colour or difference they just see their friends. Adults could learn a thing or two from these non-judgemental children, their innocence was and still is inspiring.
The final focus of the program was integration and follow up development. Parents and supervisors are encouraged and required at every session. This is because parents and caregivers learn to interact with each other Closing the Gap not just between their children’s generation but also in their own. Emboldened simply by the opportunity given to their child, parents and carers try to continue teaching the lessons learnt at the playgroup at home. This is so that the children’s knowledge can continue to grow. Whether it’s learning the ABC or counting to 10, parents and children work long and hard, fighting for their opportunity, fighting for their equality.
The program is for children under the age of five and when I asked why there wasn’t another program for slightly older children; Janice Walker the program coordinator and an Indigenous community leader emphasised that the earlier the children begin learning the better chance they have of success. She shared that there was approximately 150 residents in this community and 45 of them are children under the age of 5. Janice’s passion to help her community, to help the future for Indigenous Australians looked further than just one day, she had a vision. Not just for her lifetime but for generations to come.
We don’t get many opportunities to see what others experience. Often we focus on ourselves, our family, our career path and we forget that when we’re complaining about insignificant materialistic things, there are communities out there fighting for equality and against injustice everyday. Even in a developed country like Australia. Loving each other, taking care of each other, these should be our life goals and I’m so lucky and grateful to work for a company that supports these values. I was inspired that despite the fact this community had so little they were able to open their arms to me and they showed me nothing but love. Yet the thing I learnt the most from this community was the value of hope. Hope is one of the most powerful emotions to make a person power on. Janice Walker has hope. This community has hope and now I have hope. Hope that COS, The Lyone Foundation and Muru Group can make a difference, can change the world and can help, which they are trying to do by taking this step to ‘Close The Gap.’
Written by Eugenie Dale