Holly-ann Martin – Winner of the CALI Award

Our newest CALI Award winner is Holly-ann Martin. In 2007 Holly-ann volunteered in 2 remote communities in the Kimberley after reports of major child abuse cases covered the front  page of the West Australian newspaper.

It was from that experience she realised the need for more resources specific to the needs of Aboriginal children in remote communities. Holly-ann believes that everyone deserves the right to feel safe and delivers critical Abuse Prevention Education.

Q: Tell us about Safe4Kids.

Holly-ann: Safe4Kids is a Western Australian (WA) organisation, which specialises in child protection education.

The distinctive programs delivered by Safe4Kids are specifically designed as a preventative measure to combat child abuse and provide children with clear messages regarding inappropriate behaviour.

This allows them to identify unsafe situations and seek help immediately – and to persist in seeking help until they feel safe again. This educational approach emphasises that should anyone suffer unwanted touching, it isn’t the recipient’s fault, and that they have every right to have this situation dealt with.

Safe for Kids - Students Learning about Early Warning Signs

A group of students learning about their Early Warning Signs – Photo: Libby Andrew.

In many circumstances, protective behaviours are introduced to children after a critical incident has occurred. Whilst these important life skills are valuable for all children at all times, the strength of protective behaviours lies in empowering the children themselves to be proactive about their own safety before a crisis develops.

The success of this program is underpinned by total community focus, engaging school staff, parents and carers, local police, government & non-government agencies and other community groups involved in the process of creating safer communities.

Emphasis is placed on developing a language and culture of safety for children and adults alike, improving communication between them and broadening the networks available to children when they feel unsafe. This involves teaching the basics in easy to understand, current and relevant ways that are encouraging and non-threatening.

In addition to child sex abuse prevention, the Safe4Kids program also covers the proliferation of pornography, cyber bullying, cyber-sex, cyber payback, and respectful relationships education – all aimed at improving the emotional health of children and overall quality of life.

The program has a variety of ways in which it can be taught or passed on, and has a range of colourful,  relatable resources that children love to use.

Q: What inspired you to start a project like Safe4Kids?

Holly-ann: Safe4Kids was born out of a need for resources for both teachers and parents to teach Abuse Prevention Education.  With 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys being sexually abused in Australia each year, how do we prepare children for the potential dangers that exist in the world, without scaring them, wrapping them in cotton wool or providing them with too much information?

Child Protection needs to be everyone’s priority, and I found that it wasn’t.

In 2007 on my long service leave I volunteered and went up into 2 remote communities in the Kimberley after reports of major child sexual abuse were all over the front page of the West Australian newspaper.

Holly-ann Martin - Safe4Kids - remote community

Holly-ann with a group of kids in a remote community – Photo: Glenda Lucas

I was invited to be a part of Operation Slatter, a WA Police operation established to gather intelligence on child sexual abuse in remote communities in the Kimberley region of Western Australia – an invitation extended due to the fact that the police had seen the benefits of this valuable education program in action.

From that experience I realised that I needed to produce more resources specific to the needs of Aboriginal children living in remote communities, and set about doing that.

Q: What are you aiming to achieve?

Holly-ann: It will take generational change to break the cycle of child abuse, but if we don’t get started then we will never break the cycle. I have seen for myself the change in communities that I have been going to for a long time. One community has been getting me back for the past 7 years and another for 5 years.

If the principals of these schools didn’t think it was working, then they would not invest school funds to support it.  My aim is to try and secure enough funding to allow me to train others, so they can go into many more communities and together I believe we can really make a difference on a much larger scale.

Q: What is something you are particularly proud of.

Holly-ann: There are so many things I am particularly proud of but I guess one of my greatest success stories is found amongst the Indigenous community.

I’m often told when working in Aboriginal communities, “You can’t talk to men about that,” or “This community won’t let you speak to children about the correct anatomical name for their private parts” or “The men will not listen to a white woman telling them what to do.”

Safe4Kids - Aboriginal men taking part in a  workshop about child protection

A group of Aboriginal men after a talk on protecting children – Photo: Libby Andrew

There are many misconceptions about what is culturally appropriate, but because of the way I work when educating communities, my program is always very well received.  I have been fortunate to have run 12 workshops with soley Aboriginal men in remote communities both in the Kimberley of Western Australia and in the Central Desert of the Northern Territory.

The feedback from the men has always been very positive, with very little negativity. They are extremely grateful for the chance to hear what their children are learning at school and their response is that they are their children too – but normally people will only work with their women.

These workshops are conducted with great respect and sensitivity. It is not about naming, blaming or shaming. It is simply that this is what your children are learning and I thought you would like to know. If it concerns you as it does me, this is what we can do about it.

After explaining why it is important for all children in Australia to know the correct terminology for their private parts, Aboriginal elders are more than happy for their children to be taught this without feeling any shame or embarrassment.

Safe4Kids - Aboriginal men workshop about keeping children safe

Aboriginal men at a workshop talking about how to help keep children safe – Photo: Holly-ann Martin

Q: Why are you so motivated to make a difference?

Holly-ann: I think it stems from a difficult childhood. Fortunately I wasn’t sexually abused as a child, but I certainty know what it feels like not to feel safe. I believe that everyone has the right to feel safe and I truly believe that this is my purpose in life – to try and make that happen for as many children as I can.

An example of my commitment and endeavour to prevent child abuse came about when I went to a remote Aboriginal community in the Kimberley called Ngalapita.

In order to gain access to the community I could either drive an additional 600km to the nearest bridge to cross the Fitzroy River or pack up all my gear into waterproof bags, put them on my head and wade waist deep across the 80 meter wide section of river.

Not wanting to face an additional 8 hours of driving and waste valuable teaching time, I decided to wade across with the help of the school Principal, much to the amusement of members of the local community.

Holly-ann Martin - Crossing the Fitzroy River to Ngalapita

Crossing the Fitzroy River to Ngalapita….

I had my backpack on my back and my laptop over my head, then suddenly my legs were washed out from underneath me and I was going down fast. Out of nowhere a hand grabs my laptop; otherwise I would have lost the lot.

In another community it was very hard to engage with the women in a workshop situation, so with the help of the Maternal Child Health Nurse we arranged to take the women out camping…in 40 degree heat!  This helped put them at ease and provided them with a familiar environment in which to teach this most sensitive subject.

Holly-ann Martin - camping with a group of Aboriginal women

Camping with a group of Aboriginal women to talk about how to keep children safe – Photo: Glenda Lucas

While on holiday in Cambodia, I took the time to engage an interpreter who took me to a small school about 15km from Seam Reap, which was run by Japanese Nuns.  I took all my resources and a pile of puppets and was fortunate enough to teach the 50 students aged from 4 years to 8 years old.

After school, and with the help of the interpreter, I trained the Cambodian teachers and had a second interpreter for the Nuns. They were very grateful, saying that they knew this to be a huge problem for their students with the high rates of child sex trafficking, but that they didn’t know how to even open the conversation with the children about this sensitive subject.

Safe4Kids - Holly-ann Martin working with children in Cambodia

In Cambodia a child shows the sign language for the word private – Photo: Holly-ann Martin

Q: Do you feel there is reward in your efforts?

Holly-ann: The rewards in my efforts are multitudinous Like just recently I was in a remote community, I walked into a classroom and a 7 year old boy walked up to me and said, “Where is your husband?” and made the sign language for private.

My husband and I had taught this child 8 months earlier in another community 600 kilometres away and he had remembered everything we had spoken about.

Larger rewards are when the police ring me to say how they have just been out to a community where two young girls had been taken out into the bush and shown pornography by an adult.  The two girls got away and ran straight back and reported what had happened because “That Miss Holly said no one is allowed to show us those private pictures, it’s against the law.”

Q: If you had your way, everyone would spend 5 minutes a day …

Holly-ann: Talking with their children – really actively speaking and listening to them about their lives and feelings, whilst also appropriately sharing their own. Children need to know that nothing they do could ever stop their parents from loving them and without active dialogue in the family, a child very often does not learn this.

Holly-ann worked as a teacher’s assistant for 25 years, then found her real purpose in life, helping children to feel safe.  She took a loan out on her home to produce the resources needed to support teachers once she taught the basics of her program and has left the community.

Holly-ann recently got married in Las Vegas to a wonderful caring man who last year resigned from his high profile job in AFL football to help and support her to make a difference.  They enjoy Rock and Roll dancing and traveling.

Connect with Holly-ann:

Website       Twitter      Facebook     

Want more inspiration?

The CALI Award

The CALI Award is awarded to inspiring people who are recognised for their leadership in creating positive change for people or the world around us. CALI Award recipients are willing to do what it takes to make a difference and we think should be celebrated for what they are – modern day heroes.

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