Q&A: Andrew Taukolo, YFS Ltd

In August 2020, the VFFF Grants Committee approved $48,500 towards the Men4Respect program, run by YFS in Logan, Qld. This program is a fantastic example of using peer-led education to tackle a persistent social issue, and is delivered by paid Youth Ambassadors. Men4Respect Coordinator Andrew Taukolo provides some insights.

Men4Respect Coordinator, Andrew Taukolo
Men4Respect Coordinator, Andrew Taukolo
The Men4Respect team with program participants
The Men4Respect team with program participants

VFFF: What is the Men4Respect program?

Andrew: The Men4Respect program is a peer-to-peer model of young men aiming to empower other young men in schools and in the community to
foster healthier and respectful relationships to prevent domestic and family violence. We work with groups of young men for around 8 weeks.

Our workshops start off in a yarning circle before we break off into smaller, intimate groups. Over the 8 weeks we discuss and cover topics from healthy
vs toxic masculinity, empathy, consent, red and green flags in relationships
and being a positive and healthy bystander.

2021 reignited conversations about masculinity, gender equality and
respectful relationships. How do we best engage young men on these issues and how important is it to have these conversations early on in their lives?

Along with our strength to build rapport with the young men, we also aim to provide them a safe and non-judgemental space where they can freely
speak and express their opinions on masculinity, sex, and relationships.
From all the participant feedback we have received over the past two years, they have all been thankful and most appreciative of a space where they
could freely ask and explore these ideas.

To engage young men in these issues and ideas we need to start early. Understanding what domestic and family violence is can be very complex.
I believe that for young men, we need to first build their capacity to
understand the complexity of these issue. This means building on their
values of empathy, respect, and self-confidence etc. and providing them
with the tools they need to dissect, understand, and contribute to these conversations.

Can you share any success stories or important moments throughout your
time with YFS?

There has been plenty of success stories and highlights from the teams I
have been part of at YFS, but for the Men4Respect program, it has been watching the growth of our young male peer educators and the growth of
the young men we work with.

We often hear from parents and teachers about the change of attitude
and/or behaviour in the young men since joining the program. It is
reassuring knowing that it is not just us who are noticing the changes.

Most of our peer educators did not have a deep understanding on the complexity of domestic and family violence when they first started. However, what they did not lack was the drive, the passion, and the willingness to learn. Watching them now share their experiences and learnings with the young men has been rewarding for me.

You represent Men4Respect on the Queensland Government’s Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Council. What learnings can YFS bring to the council?

By sitting on the council, I am hoping to bring my experience working on the ground with young men in the prevention space. I was very honoured and blessed to be appointed to the council and hope that this opens doors and pathways for other young men to enter this space. We are all familiar with the statistics around Men, violence and DFV, and as men we have a huge role to play.

When we first started Men4Respect, we thought that we had to redefine masculinity, but what we quickly realised that it was not redefining masculinity that needed to occur but instead, reclaiming masculinity. Most of the young men we worked with were able to identify what a respectful and positive young man was. The issue was that the expectations and pressures were for them to be the opposite.

In 2020, Men4Respect won the not-for-profit category of Logan City Council’s Safe City Awards. How did it feel to have your work recognised in your local community?

It was an awesome achievement, especially considering COVID and how young the team, and the program were. We are used to being acknowledged and thanked for our work at the schools or online, but to be acknowledged by the local council for the work we are doing to make the city “safe”, is also quite special.

What does YFS have planned for the rest of 2021 and beyond?

We aim to continue growing the Men4Respect program and its sustainability, and build on our current momentum. Despite COVID-19 and its restrictions, over the last 12 months we have been able to deliver the Men4Respect program to 15 groups of young men and reach over 20,000 people on our online platforms. Being a small team and working with limited funding, what we have been able to achieve has been awesome. With a larger team and sustainability, what we can achieve is exciting.

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