This Indian-born chap pictured went through school and adolescence absorbing jibes, at times deplorable prejudice after his family moved to Adelaide when he was three-years-old.
However, with his Spanish ancestral Christian name of Juan followed by Smith – the most prevalent surname in the western world – and now having a strong Aussie accent, liking our footy and knowing of Jimmy Barnes some may suggest it goes a long way to being ‘one of us’.
‘Good on ‘ya, mate’ we may say, but with a broad smile our ‘Smithy’ asks: “Who are we?”
This simple question will be put to a group of 20 teenagers aged 13-16 during a three-day camp in Douglas Scrub near McLaren Flat on March 20-22 as part of a new Fleurieu Leaders Youth Program.
Juan is part of a team presenting this camp with the aim of helping these kids get through their myriad of social barriers and be better equipped with leadership tools to support others on their own journey.
This project group – Nicky Connolly, Jenni Mitton, Joshua Moorhouse, Claire Neylon and Juan – was formed from within the Future Leaders Program under the auspices of the McLaren Vale Business Association to develop an assignment to benefit our community.
Juan said because these members had each personally gained so much from the program they thought how great it would be if much younger people could also have a chance to learn some of these leadership values.
The obvious stared at the project team
– if a portion of today’s parents are generally finding the challenge of understanding and communicating with their children daunting, shouldn’t we be helping the next generation to make parenting easier by helping them with programs now?
Juan believes today’s youth have so much more acceptance of diversity in society. “They have a challenge… there is a lot of complexity,” he adds. “Our lives were simple and our parents lives were more simple again.
“Now we are across social media platforms, technology, cultural diversity, social diversity, gender diversity. When you navigate all of that how do you get a sense of who and what you are?
“When we grew up kids we had attitudes and that’s how it was, one simple way. Now you can choose one of many angles of society to be aligned with and it is trickier for them.
“This program is not necessarily about troubled kids. We did not want this to be a fix-it for those dysfunctional…. a good cross-section – not all natural-born leaders or those who are perhaps struggling with life.
“There are leadership qualities in everyone in some form or shape, and to give kids an opportunity to find it by themself is so important.
“Someone once said that if you can give a child a sense of self-worth you can achieve for them more than any adult has achieved in their lifetime. It is so true.
“The teenagers will learn from action rather than theory. We have engaged a group called Adventure Systems to have activities like orienteering, rock climbing, abseiling, and by helping each other and working in groups to perform these tasks they will learn the qualities and values of of leadership, collaboration, sharing and thinking beyond yourself. That’s what it is about; thinking beyond yourself. We’ll also add some entertainment and fun.
“We are hoping we can get the kids to come up with agreements rather than rules between themselves as in confidentiality, respecting what each other says, and basically helping each other.
“The aspiration is that we have other youth leadership groups happening all over the
Fleurieu at multiple locations. We do not
want to own or hog this program, we want to create it so it can run in other places.”
Juan doesn’t see himself as a champion
of cause. In fact, this program made up of volunteers and wonderful support from Bendigo Bank, City of Onkaparinga, the Awesome Foundation and a host of genuinely caring small business people is in many ways part of his own story of inspiration to discover himself within.
Life is great now – Juan and his wife, Maria, have two adult children, and he works full-time at Flinders Uni on campus development including building projects. To get to this part of his journey he had to rise above challenges that assimilation usually delivers. Proud of his heritage, he knew that he looked different, his parents had a different accent and they had different cultural norms.
“I was constantly on the outside looking in even though I felt like one of the Aussies… I was always trying to fit in rather than just being myself,” Juan said.
“When you are the youngest of five kids like I am, growing up you feel that you are not being heard, and for me when I was becoming a man I still felt like a little boy pretending to be a man. That led me to explore; how I could find my own masculinity, which led me to a men’s group.
“I put my hand up for community-type or leadership roles within my workplace even though I didn’t feel up to it. I felt I had to jump in there or I would never grow up.”
Juan recalls having a need to help others find their own sense of belonging so he started a men’s group in Aldinga and Port Willunga, not to be confused with the brilliant men’s shed concept where many older guys may have fallen into isolation and find connection through working with their hands in a shed.
Here, Juan has a group of 35 men aged from 19 to over-60 with about a dozen on any given fortnight sitting in a circle creating a safe, confidential forum for them to share what they may not otherwise share in a club or pub environment.
“It’s about how they are going in their life,” Juan said. “The objective is asking how can I share and engage with other men with the aim of becoming a better man in my own home life.
“We talk about the authentic man, what it means to be vulnerable, what does it mean to own your own issues and values. We discover how many other men may be sharing those issues who think, I am struggling with an issue and I thought I was a loser because of a, b, or c, and then realise a lot of people struggle with that too.
“We ask each other what they do to deal with that. It may be relationship issues, work problems or a lack of work, a lack of self-esteem or anger issues. We are not there to counsel each other, merely provide a sounding board so you feel supported in your own community.
“The intention of wanting to become a better man starts with exercising more integrity. An example may be saying out out loud ‘I want to be nicer to my wife’ and others in the group say, ‘what are you going to do about that?’ The man says, I’ll go for a walk, that’s a start. The group says, ring us after you have done that, and why not take her for a coffee’. We call that support accountability. It can be a really powerful thing in helping each other, and everything stays within the circle.
“Our men’s group started three years ago through support from Ben Buckfield and Charles Manning. It is not a new idea; we were just keen to start one down south.
“Through this men’s group I have learnt a lot about myself. I’m in my early 50s now and I am starting to get a sense of my own self, I have my own self-worth and I know who I am as a person.
“I have a love for my country of cultural origin… I don’t want to dwell on my past, but knowing where you came from and what made you whom you are helps with your own identity.
“I guess it was this self-discovery that became the drive for me to be part of a team to create this Fleurieu Leaders Youth Program. I remember sitting in this circle of men listening intensely and thinking wouldn’t it be great if more of us were able to see life and ourself more clearly at a younger age.”
There is an idiom suggesting that you can’t put an old head on young shoulders, but while we don’t wish upon teenagers to have our wrinkles we can at least give them the best chance of displaying wisdom and sound judgement earlier than we did.
More information: Bendigo Community Bank Fleurieu Future Leaders Program: www.fleurieuleaders.com.au