CASUARINA, Northern Territory, Australia --
Marines with Marine Rotational Force – Darwin got their hands dirty as they helped Casuarina Senior College students with the Clontarf Foundation build a vegetable garden, funded by the United States Consulate General, Melbourne, at the school, here, May 30.
The Clontarf Foundation engages young indigenous men attending school. The foundation began 13 years ago in Perth, Western Australia, after Gerard Neesham returned to teaching from the Australian Football League.
“He had noticed that none of the indigenous guys at this Aboriginal boarding school were actually going to school,” said Nathan Perrin, director of the Clontarf Academy at Casuarina Senior College. “He told them he would deliver a football program to them, providing they attend school, engage with their teachers and engage with him.”
As a result of this idea, Neesham found a significant improvement in attendance. Since the foundation first began more than a decade ago, more than 50 Clontarf Foundations now exist throughout Australia, explained Perrin.
“We equip these guys with life skills,” said Perrin. “It’s the largest outcome-based program affecting indigenous education. We really try to build their self-esteem through everything we do.”
That’s exactly what the MRF-D Marines are trying to help accomplish by volunteering with the foundation every Thursday.
“We’re trying to engage the students and set a good example,” said Capt. Kevin Baltisberger, volunteer at the school and forward air controller, MRF-D. “Showing them how to set goals and complete a task when it’s given to them.”
Baltisberger said loyalty and respect are just a few of the Corps’ values they’re demonstrating to the teens.
“It’s been a positive experience for them to get involved with these high-school aged kids,” he added.
The students are just as excited about building a vegetable garden and interacting with the Marines.
“It gives us something to do and gets us out of the classroom. It’s something we can be active about,” said Joel Greenoff, Casuarina Senior College student and member of the Clontarf Foundation. “But I don’t think any of these boys had intended to do this much work.”
During his time working with the Marines, Greenoff said he has learned a lot about the American culture.
“It gives us some diversity, having special guests, especially from America,” Greenoff explained. “It is really cool. We like to get to know them. It’s been a really fun experience with the Marines. We’ve made some bonds.”
Both the Marines and the students hope their relationships will continue to flourish. Like the Clontarf Foundation’s slogan goes, “From little things, big things grow.”