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Two Indigenous young men help NT youth turn their lives around

Two young men from the Tiwi Islands, 90km north of Darwin, have turned around their lives and are now helping others do the same through their One Percent Program.

Cousins Jahdai Vigona (top right) and Danté Rodrigues (left) felt they had two options when they left high school.

"Jahdai and I grew up around a lot of things like domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse and crime, and for a while, we were even going off on our own wrong path," Danté told ABC News.

"I'm only 22, and I've lost more friends and family than I can count," Jahdai said.

"I've attended more funerals than weddings in my lifetime. That's just the harsh reality for someone like me coming from the NT."

But they refused to fall through the cracks.

With the help of mentors, family members, positive role models, and a shared passion for boxing, the pair formed the One Percent Program to help other young Indigenous males in the NT lift themselves up, one percent at a time. 

They run weekly sessions in Darwin for anyone who wants to attend and engage the young men in a range of activities.

The physical component includes jogging, boxing, kickboxing, Muay Thai, and pad work. There are team-building activities to improve communication, build confidence, and reduce stress. Practical skills like applying for a car loan, financial tips, and what to put in a job application are also included.

"All these foundational skills you think you'd learn in 12 years of schooling,” Jahdai said. "I've had to figure a lot of things out for myself.”

Dante is also a professional kickboxer, and he credits sports with showing him a different pathway.

“There was drug and alcohol abuse, not attending school, running amok, and just being a nuisance. You know, normal stuff," he said.

"But when I started focusing full time on sport, that's when I noticed my life was getting better in almost every aspect.

"A really big lesson that kicked into me was to surround myself with positive people, always."

He said kickboxing developed his resilience more than any other activity.

"It teaches young men that when you get knocked down, you have to get back up."

The One Percent Program also includes mindfulness and meditation training, drawing on Jahdai’s experience as a mental health educator and his work with Indigenous youth in correctional settings and rural communities.

With support from the NT Government, Darwin Community Arts, and the Mayala-Bol collective, Dante and Jahdai have transformed their program into free community activities, providing essential spaces for men to thrive.

One of their overarching goals is to have a positive impact on the high suicide rate among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, which is three times the national average in the Northern Territory for children and youth.

 "We've had participants share with us that three days before coming to a session they felt suicidal. The only thing that got them out of the house was participating in our program," Jahdai says.

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