Girls’ Programmer Profile: Laura Swaine
3 October 2013 | Laura Swaine
Girls Action talks with Laura Swaine, Coordinator of Healthy Relationships for Youth (HRY), a program for rural youth at the Antigonish Women's Resource Centre and Sexual Assault Services Association in Nova Scotia.
As youth are attempting to navigate the waters of a society that increasingly values hypersexualization, violence, and assumes consent, the HRY program offers a space where critical analysis and open discussion might happen. My inspiration continuously comes from the wisdom, intelligence and creativity that I see every day in the youth I work with and from my own desperate hope that they might be allowed the opportunity to develop and grow into the people they all have the potential to be.
Girls Action: Can you start by sharing your name, the name of your group, your location, the population you work with...
L.S: My name is Laura Swaine and I am the Program Coordinator of Healthy Relationships for Youth (HRY), a school-based, peer-facilitated violence prevention program in Nova Scotia. We work primarily with youth from rural areas around the province in an attempt to increase skills and knowledge about creating and maintaining healthy relationships in all their forms.
Girls Action: One thing about you that you are most proud of?
L.S: I am most proud of the amazing work the HRY youth facilitators are doing in each school, community and area of the province. Their passion, dedication and ability to tackle difficult topics with positivity and creativity is a constant reminder of how important and needed this work is. It is so wonderful to see them embrace their potential as leadership and social justice advocates.
Girls Action: What inspired you to create your group?
L.S: The HRY program was developed in 2006 in an attempt to address the lack of resources and information available to rural youth in Northern Nova Scotia at the time. The goal was, and still is, to engage youth to look more closely at the relationships they create and how various types of oppression and exclusion might impact those relationships. As youth are attempting to navigate the waters of a society that increasingly values hypersexualization, violence, and assumes consent, the HRY program offers a space where critical analysis and open discussion might happen. My inspiration continuously comes from the wisdom, intelligence and creativity that I see every day in the youth I work with and from my own desperate hope that they might be allowed the opportunity to develop and grow into the people they all have the potential to be.
Girls Action: What do you hope to achieve?
L.S: A shift in awareness and action; encouraging young people to create and maintain positive healthy relationships in all forms and how to stand up against sexism, racism and homophobia when they see it.
Girls Action: How is your group different than other girls' groups?
L.S: Our program believes that by providing space for youth to analyse difficult topics and relationships they will become positive agents of change within their own communities. We are not content to take violence at face value or labeled under the “topic of the day”, instead we encourage our participants to question why that violence is taking place, what are the underlying causes of that violence, and who is perpetrating that violence and what power do they gain through it? By doing this the youth begin to analyze the society and media around them, reflect on their own actions and roles in community and how they want to perpetuate culture. They become active, rather than passive participants in their own lives.
Girls Action: What kind of activities do you do?
L.S: Our activities range from discussion based to full action and movement based. We believe that the best way to learn about relationships and “relating” is through doing and use every opportunity to let the youth work together. We see the most important part of our work as creating space and opportunity for youth to question, discuss and share about their own lives and experiences. Our activities are the first of many steps that need to be taken towards violence prevention, but it is a successful way of beginning the conversations. Youth have reported that the use of peer facilitation allows them to open up and learn within the classroom setting in a way that was highly transformative and relatable.
Girls Action: What's the most difficult thing about what you do?
L.S: Combating the continuous and very powerful mixed messages that come from mainstream media and how they influence youth.
Girls Action: What's the easiest thing?
L.S: Feeling passionate, encouraged and supported in what I do. I am lucky enough to be surrounded by many people who are dedicated to making positive change in our communities and each day I find a renewed sense of why we all do what we do and why it is so important.
Girls Action: In five years, where do you see the group? Where do you see yourself?
L.S: I hope that in five years the program has expanded even more, reaching more youth and becoming stronger through that collaboration. I never plan that far ahead, but if I’m lucky I will be on an adventure somewhere surrounded by loving and inspiring people.
Girls Action: Any advice you want to give to other girls' programmers out there?
L.S: Remember that you are but one of many “girls” in your group and there is always unspoken, unseen, and unheard leadership surrounding you. Wait for it, Search for it, Embrace it!
As Michael Meade said “If the fires that burn innately inside youths are not intentionally and lovingly added to the hearth of community, they will burn down the structures of culture, just to feel the warmth”.
Girls Action: I say leader...you say
Girls Action: I say community...you say
Want more information?
Contact the Antigonish Women's Resource Centre and Sexual Assault Services Association