Everyday Heroes: BraveHearts

 In Everyday Heroes, Interviews, YMHFA

Today’s edition of Everyday Heroes is a collaboration between Hero Town and the team at Humans in Geelong. We have been honoured to witness the dedication of the BraveHearts educators to protecting and educating children about personal safety.

BraveHearts travels to kindergartens and primary schools across Victoria

Ditto the lion cub is the mascot of Bravehearts, an education organisation dedicated to educating, empowering and protecting kids and community against child  sexual assault. The three educators on the Bravehearts team are experienced primary school teachers, and it shows in their enthusiasm and gentleness when speaking with the kids. Meryl Friend (dressed in the Ditto costume) takes the young audience on Ditto’s Keep Safe Adventure.

Using songs, interactive discussions and a dash of humour, Ditto teaches the kids about personal safety, including “yes and no feelings”, which areas are private parts of their bodies, warning signs from their bodies, secrets are addressed and that they should report to an adult they trust if they ever feel unsafe or unsure about others. This community funded program is aimed to empower kids to speak up when they experience “no feelings”, and to identify the strategies they can use to protect themselves.

BraveHearts originated from personal experience

The founder of Bravehearts, Hetty Johnston, grew up in Ocean Grove before moving to Queensland. When Hetty discovered that her 7 year old daughter was being abused by her grandfather, this was when she knew she had to do something to support victims and their families. So Hetty established the Bravehearts counselling service in Queensland in 1997. 1 in 5 Australian children are sexually harmed in some way before they turn 18 and 70-90 % of the time the perpetrator is known to the child. These are alarming figures that need to be talked about – but many people are not sure how to approach the subject. Today, Bravehearts education teams operate in Shepparton, Tasmania, Sydney and Queensland and right here in Geelong. Since the Geelong team was established in 2012, 56,500 children have attended this incursion and this community funded program has been embraced by 75 local primary schools and 93 kindergartens . “Hopefully we are making a difference,” Mandy says. “We only need to help one child for the program to be of value.”

The program positively impacts the whole community

The Bravehearts program has been of immeasurable benefit to children all across Australia by giving them the language they need to speak up. Mandy tells me about a teacher who disclosed a story about a child in her class who rarely spoke up in class otherwise, but used the Bravehearts language to privately talk to his teacher about his abuse. Because of the intervention and education of the Bravehearts educators, this child was able to get the help he needed. In addition to the children attending, school staff, parents, carers are invited to sit in on the sessions. Mandy tells me that any survivors who attend appreciate that something is being done to help kids, as often there was very little support for them during their experience.

The BraveHearts educators are qualified Youth Mental Health First Aiders

Hearing the stories of these survivors and teachers who sometimes disclose stories about their students can be an emotionally trying experience. Thankfully the Bravehearts staff are equipped with the resources to navigate these difficult conversations. Earlier last year, Mandy and fellow educator, Chris Schultz attended the Youth Mental Health First Aid training delivered by Hero Town Geelong.

The course really helps to understand where the survivors are coming from. It’s helped us to be more aware of and sensitive to issues around mental health.

When asked about being perceived as an Everyday Hero, Mandy and Meryl were admirably humble. There may not be any capes involved in their work, but we all agree that their work is extremely valuable and important. The BraveHearts team provide an important resource to children, parents and teachers alike: education, and a voice to speak out.

For more inspirational stories of heroism, like Hero Town Geelong on Facebook. And make sure to like the Facebook page for Humans in Geelong to keep up with positive stories from the Geelong and surrounding community.

Steph Downing
Stephanie Downing is the administrative assistant for Hero Town Geelong. Born and raised in Geelong, Australia, Stephanie is a graduate of Deakin University with her Honours degree in Professional and Creative Writing. She adores words of all sorts and is especially infatuated with the medium of poetry and fiction, with publications of her work being featured in magazines such as WORDLY Magazine, Plumwood Mountain Journal and Cordite Poetry Review.
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