Phoebe Sun could hardly believe her eyes when she saw a little girl “with the cheekiest smile” during her McCusker Centre for Citizenship internship at the Youth Involvement Council (YIC) in South Hedland.
The University of WA Biomedical Science student was on night patrol with the Mingle Mob youth outreach program giving local kids a ride home from the skate park.
“As soon as she stepped on the bus, I was like ‘Where have I seen that smile before?’” Ms Sun recalled.
“She had the cheekiest, sweetest smile I had ever seen.
“Then I realised I had tutored her while volunteering with the Teach Learn Grow program in Nullagine about half a year ago. Nullagine is more than three hours away, but there are a lot of family links between Nullagine and the kids in Hedland.”
Ms Sun (19) said the girl’s friends followed her onto the bus and remembered her straight away.
“They were like ‘Oh, you’re Phoebe from TLG’,” she said with a smile.
“The chances of us all being in Hedland at the same time and same place were so slim.
“It was a sweet reunion because they were only on the bus for a few minutes, but my supervisor told me that – after I left – the girl asked for her to say ‘Hi’ to me.”
The Canning Vale resident had a number of responsibilities during her 100-hour community service internship, including helping out at the drop-in centre, community outreach programs, and nightly Mingle Mob runs and activities.
“Being there for the kids made the most impact,” she said.
“Each kid has to fill their ‘emotional cup’ with affection, positive feedback and friendship.
“We were there to help them fill their cups. You really get to know each kid, what is going on in their lives and what makes them tick. When they come up to you smiling and looking for a hug, you just can’t resist them.”
YIC chief executive and intern supervisor Vicki Stephens said Ms Sun had a positive impact on many of their clients, which was “unusual for such a short placement”.
“Phoebe is one of those people who is hard-working, intelligent, easy to be around and analytical,” Ms Stephens said.
“She has a calm nature and was skilled at building rapport with the clients in her gentle manner.”
Ms Sun said her internship made her reflect on her life.
“I have always been expected to go to high school, get good grades, behave myself and go to university,” she said.
“In Hedland, you realise how easy it is to get caught up in that cycle of not attending school and taking part in activities that place them at risk.
“The work YIC is doing is so important, because they are stepping in and trying to make sure there’s a safe space for a child before habits kick in and makes it a lot harder to set them on the right track and make good life decisions.”
Ms Sun said the young people in South Hedland were “often just craving something to do”.
“One time on Mingle Mob, we took the kids to go see the Staircase to the Moon in Port Hedland that happens every month,” she said.
“That was the first time they had ever seen it, and they have lived 15 minutes’ drive away their whole lives.”
Ms Sun said she definitely wanted to return to the Pilbara to work for “at least a year or two” after she graduated from university.
“I feel such a tie to that place,” she said.
“There's also such a need for health professionals up there.
“I know a lot of these kids and – just like the little girl on the bus – I would love the chance to reconnect with them again when they’ve grown up a bit and see how they’re doing.”