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Young mum learns to fly, scuba dive in the Outback

“We’ve tried to teach the kids that if they’ve got a dream, they should go for it.”

Jayden Collins wants to be a commercial pilot. She has big dreams. But in Cunnamulla, her small country town in southwest Queensland, dreams don’t often come true.

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Jayden is an 18-year-old Indigenous woman. She has a three-year-old son and has just finished high school. She’s spent most of her life in Cunnamulla, a drought-crippled town of about 1200 people which was once described in a notorious burger chain advertisement as a hellish destination; a “hot place with little to do.”

“It has had a bad reputation over the years, but it doesn’t deserve the negative press.” – Jane Dillon

Many locals would disagree with that description. Jane Dillon is one of them. She’s lived in Cunnamulla for 18 years with her husband Wayne, running Christian-based youth programmes with their organisation Eagle Edge Solutions.

“It’s a real pretty town,” says Jane. “It has had a bad reputation over the years, but it doesn’t deserve the negative press.”

When Jane and Wayne Dillon arrived in Cunnamulla, they intended to stay for a month as Wayne acted as a relief pastor for the Uniting Church. But meeting kids such as Jayden made them reconsider their plans.

“There were a lot of issues with the young people here. And we had a heart and passion to give them a chance to change,” said Jane.

The workshop has Bible verses written on the walls.

The programmes Wayne and Jane started began as a youth group and Sunday school. But over time they developed into running activities based on whatever skills Wayne, a boilermaker and pilot, and Jane thought they could transfer: from woodworking and silversmithing to certificate courses in engineering; go-cart and fibreglass canoe building to first aid and surf lifesaving.

The workshop has Bible verses written on the walls. And each course begins with a devotion, thanking God for the skills Jane and Wayne can now bestow on others.

“Any of the skills that we have, we make available to the kids. And if we can find other people willing to bring their skills to the town and teach them, we do that, too,” says Jane.

But it was flying that Jayden most wanted to try.

The first contact Jayden had with Wayne and Jane was at 12 years old, when she decided to join the “Dive in for Learning” programme offered after school at the local swimming pool. There, kids worked towards completing an open water scuba diving certificate.

“I really liked it,” says Jayden. “In Cunnamulla, we don’t have that many things to do, so lots of kids were going along.” She practised in the pool, then in the muddy Warrego River that borders the town. Jayden then travelled with the Dillons and a group of kids to the coast – more than 800 kilometres away – to complete the requirements to get her open water scuba licence.

“She’s got a real ambition for challenge and adventure,” says Jane, describing Jayden’s appetite for the programmes she and Wayne were running.

But it was flying that Jayden most wanted to try. Before arriving in Cunnamulla, Wayne had been a pilot for Missionary Aviation Fellowship in Papua New Guinea, having previously chartered planes over the Snowy Mountains in New South Wales and Victoria. It was only natural that he found a way to share that skill too. And Jayden was busting to get in the air.

“I’ve learned to be a better person from them.” – Jayden Collins

Now at 18, Jayden has completed a recreational aviation pilot certificate through Eagle Edge and is working towards getting her pilot’s licence. She says her family has helped her a lot, supporting her as she finished school with a baby, and now as she works at a local cafe to fund her flying lessons. And Wayne and Jane are always in the background, too.

“I’ve learned so much from them,” Jayden says, talking about Wayne and Jane. “They’re always ready to help you out. They love the kids here. I’ve learned to be a better person from them.”

Jane says young women in particular need a lot of support in Cunnamulla. “Their challenge, like most young women, is finding out where they fit. There’s a lot of low self-esteem among the girls. And there aren’t many opportunities for them here to follow their dreams.”

“I think Jayden was always searching for something. I suppose we’ve allowed her to blossom and to try different things.

“We’ve tried to teach the kids that if they’ve got a dream, they should go for it. It’s something to work towards. Jayden is prepared to do the work to get herself there.”

Due to illness, Jane and Wayne Dillon are leaving Cunnamulla at the end of 2017. They’ve been praying for another Christian ministry to take over the work of Eagle Edge Solutions.

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