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Author's Name: Eleanor Edstrom
Date: Mon 27 Jul 2020

Delilah Scott on Challenging Preconceptions

Delilah Scott is a 19-year-old university student from the Blue Mountains who has been involved with Making Waves Foundation since 2018. She was first a Wright of Passage trainee and now works as the program coordinator. 

When most students her age were preparing for their yearly exams, Delilah Scott was preparing for a test of a different kind. Instead of pens, she was handed power tools. Instead of a classroom, she was given the open ocean. Alongside the team at Making Waves Foundation, Delilah’s challenge was to help transform a sinking boat into something that would transport herself and the other Wright of Passage trainees from Sydney to Hobart. Between a year’s worth of 4:30am wake-ups, unexpected connections, and getting soaked by the rain out at sea, the program proved to be quite the adventure. Not only would it stretch Delilah’s physical and mental limits, but it would also lead to her to gain lifelong friendships, valuable employment skills, and a changed perspective on life.

Delilah’s story can be traced back to her schooling experiences. Having dealt with severe type one diabetes since a young age, Delilah found herself in and out of hospital throughout highschool, often missing significant amounts of class. She tried distance education for a long time, which eventually moved to an online format. “It was a terrible system,” Delilah says, “I couldn’t log in, I didn’t have internet while I was at the hospital. All of these problems just kind of built up and built up.” 

When she started to move away from schooling altogether, Delilah was told that if she simply watched the videos, she would receive a pass. As someone who has always loved learning, she knew that something wasn’t right. “This is my education and I’m not here to check boxes,” she says, “I’m here to actually learn”. Despite enrolling in free online university courses and finding organisations to work with, Delilah was not allowed to leave school since she had not yet completed year 10. “I reached this point where I was being dragged back into a system that wasn’t working for me,” she explains. 

At this stage, Delilah was eager to do something exciting that would allow her to get out and explore with the world. This led her to apply to many adventure sail organisations, all of whom rejected her application due to her diabetes. She was implicitly told again and again that such activities weren’t possible for her. Despite this prejudice, Delilah was determined to find something that would accommodate her. She eventually stumbled across a program called Wright of Passage through Making Waves Foundation (Sailors with disABILITIEs at the time). The program is designed to increase the employment opportunities of young people who have in some way been disconnected from learning, or have experienced some form of disadvantage or disability, through re-igniting their curiosity towards the world. Not expecting to get accepted, Delilah signed up.

Three days later, she got the call that would shape the next twelve months of her life and her future beyond. She had been accepted into Wright of Passage. The only female of five participants in the program, Delilah and her fellow trainees were to spend a year refurbishing a fifty-three foot Herreshoff ketch boat before sailing it from Sydney to Hobart to take part in the 2019 MyState Australian Wooden Boat Festival. They would also spend two days per week at TAFE completing a Certificate II in Boating Services. 

(Left) Wooden boat, Mercator. (Right) The 2018 Wright of Passage participants including Delilah on the right.

The preparation stage of the program didn’t come without its share of challenges. For Delilah, it meant having to wake up at well before daybreak multiple times a week to come to Sydney all the way from the Blue Mountains. It meant getting to the dock in the cold and the dark, and spending copious amounts of time sanding a boat that hadn’t been cleaned in years. At this point, Delilah doubted her own capabilities and if getting to Hobart was even possible. However, the shift in attitude she witnessed in herself and others was remarkable. “It was amazing to be able to start off the program and go, right, there is no way that I can do it, I don’t know how to use power tools, I don’t know what I’m doing, I don’t know why I’m here, and then to just stick with it, and to actually develop these skills.” 

After a year of hard work, the trainees were struck by an overwhelming sense of excitement when they finally left Sydney harbour to embark on their journey to Tasmania. Delilah recounts the astonishment she felt in that moment: “I'm on a boat that I saw almost sink. In fact, one day it did almost sink; a pipe fell down and it was filling up with water straight from the outside[...]. I’m standing on a boat that I’ve seen in this absolute state of disrepair, and we’ve got it to this point, and now we are leaving with this boat. There’s a sense of complete achievement in that, and a pride in the work that’s been completed.”

Yet, the crew still had a long way to go before they made it to Hobart. As she looked back at Sydney’s cliff faces, and towards the intimidating seas that lay ahead, Delilah was hit by the reality that she was no longer insulated by the safety of land; she was stuck out on the ocean with only an old wooden boat and a handful of crew members as a lifeline. “Things can go wrong, and there’s this exchange where, as a team, you realise that you rely on everybody else. You have handed over your life, in many ways, to them, and you’re trusting them with that,” Delilah says. But with this experience came an extraordinary opportunity for camaraderie, communication and connection. 

While every Wright of Passage trainee had their own personal challenges, they didn’t necessarily know what each other’s challenges were. MWF facilitates a process whereby program participants learn to support each other through their interactions, rather than coming onto the boat with a preconceived idea of what each person needs due to a certain disability or disadvantage they faced. “In society, we’re always trying to accommodate for disability: How do we make this more accessible? How do we change this? How do we work them into the workplace?,” Delilah notes. What MWF’s programs prove is that turning this approach upside down can be far more valuable. “Suddenly we had to switch into really knowing each other, and observing each other,” explains Delilah. “It was all about being this really strong crew and understanding each other and being able to work as a team without needing to ask anything or say anything.” 

The boat's mid-maintenance status presented its own difficulties during the sail, with bonds yet to be secured, no lights and no toilet door (an interesting experience, to say the least). However, one of the largest challenges Delilah personally faced was health-related. During the Bass Strait crossing, the most demanding leg of the sail, she fell very sick. She was in bed for multiple days, even preparing to be flown off the boat by a helicopter. This was not only an extreme physical challenge, given that the arduous ocean conditions, but was also a mental one. “I guess the whole sail for me was this internal battle of whether I can or can’t do it,” Delilah remarks. Her sickness over these two days threatened to undermine her assurance that she could really achieve what society had told her that she couldn’t. 

However, Delilah was fortunately able to pull through this rough patch, and came out of the program with a new found confidence and wealth of unforgettable experiences. One morning, she managed to get herself up on deck at 2am with David, the founder of Sailors with DisABILITIES, and one other crew member. “These dolphins came up alongside the boat, and there was phosphorescence on the boat pulling this sort of spiral behind the dolphins. And then the sun eventually started to come up, and in complete silence we just put up all of the four sails of the boat and turned off the engine,” Delilah says. They were also struck by the extraordinary feeling of seeing land for the first time in four days, and knowing that they had really made it to Tasmania after all they had been through. “That silent morning with the sails was just something that will never leave me, ever.”

By the end of the program, it was not only the boat that was transformed, but it was also the participants' outlook on life. “To start being excited again about the future, that’s the biggest change, I think, for all of us,” Delilah says. 

It was also the program volunteers who Delilah witnessed a positive change in. “There’s a bit of a preconception about young people who aren’t necessarily engaged in school”, Delilah says. Through interacting and learning from each other, the volunteers and young people involved in Wright of Passage were able to break down these kinds of prejudices through developing strong relationships and mutual respect. 

The trip allowed Delilah to recognize just how powerful the act of sharing personal experiences can be. Making little connections at various ports along the way was one of the highlights of the sail. “By the end of that boat festival and being down in Hobart, we had told so many people the story. And there were so many people that were supportive of us, but also starting to tell us what they wanted to do and what they could do, and to change that – that was a change that hit a broader community.” Having completed Wright of Passage, Delilah endeavours to use her experiences to help others. “I think I now almost feel tasked with being able to go to that community of young women, in particular, that think that they can’t or don’t want to try, and say hey, well if I can do it, you can do it too”. 

What lies at the core of MWF’s philosophy is the desire to challenge assumptions about the world - the assumptions that we can’t do X because we are a certain age or gender, or because we face a certain personal or physical challenge. As we move through life, such stories stick and harden on us like glue, often confining us to what others have set for us and limiting the possibilities before us. Delilah’s story shows us that these social narratives are not blueprints for the way we must live our lives.

“There’s no worth in just sticking something out if it’s not right. It’s not likely to get better, and you have control over that, and it’s about making experiences what you want them to be,” explains Delilah. “You just grab those opportunities because if you don’t, then you’re not really taking yourself forward, and you’re not trusting to take yourself forward. You’re listening to what someone else has said.” 

Now that she is the program coordinator, Delilah feels even more passionately about empowering young people to step outside their comfort zones. She emphasises the importance of recognizing that we don’t have to follow certain pathways simply because we are told that we should. “It’s cool to know that there is a process to be able to do that – that it’s not just a lost cause if the system’s not working for you, to know that there is another system out there. And to really advocate for people to be brave enough to take that step.” 

This attitude is found in all of MWF’s programs. “We sail with a completely disabled team in our race team. There’s a gentleman and he’s completely blind, and he knows the ropes better than anyone else, because he knows them by touch. And we’re better at communicating because we don’t need to talk, because the guys that are deaf can’t hear anyway so we have to find other ways of communicating. Another guy, he’s blind, he can read the ocean like no one else and he can tell us to adjust things by two centimeters and he can’t see, we just have to give him some input,” Delilah says. “We can gain so much more from all these different insights. I can’t get the same perception of someone who’s not able bodied and there’s just so much there that we should be really tapping into, and we could work so much better as a society, [...] but we’re always reversing that process.”

“It’s about creating a shift in the way we perceive certain parts of society. So it’s about being able to take that idea that ‘you’re no good if you haven’t finished school’, or ‘you’re no good if you’re a young person and you can’t find employment’, or ‘you can’t do this because you are a female’, and taking that and going, hang on a second, this is absolute rubbish.”  

If there is one thing we can learn from Delilah, it is that it only takes one individual act of courage to create a ripple effect in society and remind us that our possibilities are as expansive as the ocean.

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