The new initiative empowering women in remote Australia

ELEVEN Australia is thrilled to announce its partnership with the Happy Boxes Project, an initiative that empowers women through alleviating the barriers of accessing basic needs in the remote corners of Australia.

Below, BD chats with Happy Boxes Project founder, Emma Sullings, to find out more.

Can you tell us about the Happy Boxes Project and why you founded it?

I spent five years working, living and learning in a remote community in the Northern Territory as a school teacher working with teenage girls. During this time I noticed the girls' friendships weren’t as strong as they could be, overcrowded housing was a massive issue, and I realised that was evident in most of these communities. They were also suffering from the effects of poor health and minimal employment opportunities. There was also a high rate of domestic violence and when you have children living in overcrowded homes there was a high chance of them being exposed to that. 

So I started a wellbeing program called the Stronger Sisters to get the girls together once a week where we did different activities. During this time with the girls, we would chat about their lives and what was going on at home. I used to try and help troubleshoot and go about strengthening their bonds and help them build each other up. A big focus of the group was coming up with ways of filling other people's buckets and the actions they could take to make someone else’s day because that also feels good. 

We decided to make a little box for the girls to put letters that they wrote or pictures they drew of each other, along with photos of them in the group – it became a box for them to have all their favourite memories in and the girls coined them their Happy Box!

As part of the Stronger Sisters, we talk about self-care and hygiene and it became very apparent that the girls didn’t have access to these in their home. Things like shampoo, conditioner and soap. Even just having a clean towel was a struggle due to overcrowded housing – sometimes living with up to 15 people in a household. Even to buy something like shampoo from the local store (if you could even get to one as they can sometimes be up to 750km away). A bottle of shampoo which we could potentially pay $7 for here, you can pay up to $15 out there, so families were struggling to put food on the table, let alone have that extra money for basic toiletries.

We wanted to start including some of these basic essentials to make them feel good. So I put a Facebook event out to my friends and family for anyone that had anything that wasn’t being used that they could send. People started sending so much product that we were able to fill a Happy Box for every woman in the community for International Women’s Day.

I started putting a bit more time into things back in October 2019 after my newborn baby arrived and was going through a few first-time mum struggles. It allowed me to channel some of my energy into spreading the word of the Happy Boxes which not only gave me a bit of an outlet but meant I was able to build it up a bit more. From here we held market stalls and events that raised huge donations with local people from the community wanting to get on board. I was able to develop a board and applied for registration with the ACFC which was granted and since then we’ve exploded with 34 coordinators in WA, NSW, QLD and NT. 

Now, thanks to companies like ELEVEN Australia coming on board, it allows us to make a bigger impact and expand even further. We’re now doing workshops for women where they get together and do DIY beauty.

How did the partnership with ELEVEN Australia come about?

ELEVEN Australia reached out to me saying how much they loved what we were doing and that they would love to get involved somehow. When we met it became pretty evident in the first conversation that we shared the same values, ethics and passion, so that felt good for me and I trusted in the partnership. The rest is history really.

ELEVEN Australia organised the first shipment to go out recently which was bigger than I could have ever comprehended. The product went out to our coordinator in Alice Springs who works for an organisation which does outreach to several remote communities in the IPY lands, so now when she goes out and supports community members that are running youth groups she can take a car-load of goodies to make their day. We were also able to post out these packs during COVID-19 lockdown as people weren’t able to get together. The community was overwhelmed and so grateful that these goodies were coming their way.

How is ELEVEN Australia contributing to the Happy Boxes Project?

This is a beautiful, ongoing partnership. The donation of products is one thing, but the power of sharing our story on ELEVEN Australia’s media platforms and helping to put the knowledge of the work we do out there is just as powerful. 

Having ELEVEN Australia as a partner is giving us a voice on a platform that has such a wonderful following. They’re a brand that people trust and it’s helping to get us out to the mainstream media which is important. It’s also come at an opportune time with the Black Lives Matter movement as people are now educating themselves and becoming more conscious of inequalities. What we’ve been blown away by is being recognised as a charity that is contributing to closing the gap and this only happens with the help of companies like ELEVEN Australia who are giving us a voice.

How can beauty media help spread the word of this wonderful initiative?

Beauty media can help by presenting people with the facts of the challenges and disadvantages that our women are facing in remote communities and help educate people on these challenges. Balancing that with not only sharing the Happy Boxes story but looking at it in multiple ways in which organisations are helping empowering women. The beauty world has such a strong following of women, and as we all want to look and feel our best, I think their followers / readers will hopefully really relate to why it’s important that every woman in Australia has access to these basic needs. Also, celebrating the incredibleness of our culture and our women and what women are capable of, raising that voice and ensuring that we do have diversity, not only in the models being used, but also in the people that are working for the companies and providing more opportunities for our First Nations people to not only share their story and have a voice, but to chase whatever dreams they have.

We’re currently using our website and Instagram which has been our key driver and trying to build a following and reach as many people as we can. We’ve got an ambassador that's going to join the team and will announce who that is shortly. We’re also starting to approach a few Aboriginal women that we look up to and that are great role models that have the opportunity to help the happy boxes reach more platforms. Other than that it’s our website and Instagram page!

Images courtesy of: Leicolhn McKellar (local community member).