Unstinting champion of the young

Malcolm Cameron. Photo by Jane Dawber.
Malcolm Cameron. Photo by Jane Dawber.
Malcolm Cameron thinks we should stop being politically correct and start expecting more of people.

Constantly providing government benefits to people, with no expectation they will get off them, is pandering to them in a way that is not helpful, he says.

Although he believes in a safety net for those who need it, others could do better with their lives but won't unless they are given the opportunity.

"We've taken the desire to work away from people and made it almost unreachable for a lot of them. They don't have the expectation that there's a job out there for them somewhere."

It was the politically correct way in which many were dealing with young people that prompted Cameron to start his first training programme in Dunedin in the early 1990s.

"I absolutely knew that if you'd tried that game with me as a teen, it wouldn't have worked. You'd have copped it all back in your face," he says.

"I knew there was a better way and that was to have expectations of young people."

Although staff at the Malcam Charitable Trust never give up on anyone, students are kicked off courses for drug use, drinking and bullying. And not turning up is seen as letting the side down.

"We're pretty upfront and in your face ... We've heard every excuse that there's ever been, probably 50 times, so our expectation is that you'll be there."

"In the early days, we used to break into houses. You'd be woken up by a couple of people standing at the end of your bed and I'd be one of them."

If the label ADHD had been in common use when Cameron was a child, he would probably have worn it.

"I passed wind and water at school and that was it," he says.

" I was bone lazy. I didn't engage with the system so I can empathise so easily with so many of the young people we work with."

Forbidden to leave school until he had a job, he went to the Union Steamship Company without telling his parents and found work as an office junior.

Nine months later, when his father took ill, he assumed management of the family's building and decorating business in Temuka.

Later, he managed hotels, sawmills, a transport company and a golf club before beginning to work with youth in the mid-1980s.

After being made redundant from a Salvation Army supervisor's job, he spent several months on the unemployment benefit and hated it.

Having decided to set up his own programmes, he started a work experience scheme, then added youth development programmes that still run today.

The Malcam trust believes in giving young people as many chances as they need to connect with their dreams, and sees potential in all of them, even if they can't recognise it themselves, he says.

"You just can't believe the circumstances some of them come from ... You have to sit back in awe at what a huge job they've done to get where they are ... and they've done it without encouragement or support."

"They've got what I call spunk."

"A lot of these youngsters, when they grow up, will ... live in a street near you and you won't have a clue what happened to them during their teenage years - what they succeeded or failed at.

"It's not important. The most important thing is that we stop judging people."

"I remember being in tears," he says, eyes welling up again as he speaks. "A woman rang up to say her boy had hung out the washing unasked. He'd never done it in his life before and the only thing he'd done wrong was he hung the smalls to the roadside.

"They're just little things but it's a beginning."

Cameron says he is not a do-gooder or a Christian, but has simply been lucky to have had a supportive family.

For many years they never went on holiday and he never drew a salary.

He once got a ride home from Christchurch after giving away the car that he and wife Annabel had just finished paying off.

Even now, they would sell their house for the trust, if necessary.

But limited finances do not prevent him coming up with new projects, one of which was a second-hand store run in partnership with Habitat for Humanity.

"I got so p ... off with people not being able to make up their minds as to whether we should do it or not that I walked into a meeting, threw a dollar on the table and said, 'There's the working capital. Are you in or out?'."

The only South Islander in Stephen Tindall's New Zealand Social Entrepreneur Fellowship, Cameron enjoys being with people who, like him, "want to change the flaming world".

However, he says his only skill is employing people who are smarter than him and nothing would happen were it were not for the trust's 30 "wonderful" staff.

Now the man who was once diagnosed with Tapanui flu but who still manages to start work by 4am most days is stepping down from the trust's day-to-day operation.

New chief executive Rosemary McConnon will start work at the end of the month.

Cameron will continue to be involved behind the scenes but says the organisation needs "new drive and vision".

Full employment is still his dream, even though others might think it unrealistic, and he still has 5120 days to play his part.

"I'm counting the days down to age 80 and that's one of my motivating forces. As each day goes by, I've got less time to make a difference.


Trust programmes
Malcam Charitable Trust has run training and development programmes in Otago for 12 years, working with up to 300 adults and 500 young people annually.
Its students have completed more than 400,000 hours of voluntary work in the community.
The trust has won the supreme award at the TrustPower Dunedin Community Awards and been named New Zealand Charitable Trust of the Year.
This year the organisation will spend more than $1 million.
Support comes from various sources, including the Community Trust of Otago, local businesses, the annual Jaffa race and a contract with the Ministry of Youth Development.

The 20 or so projects operating at any given time include:
- Youth development programmes.
- The 4Trades apprenticeship training scheme, which hires out apprentices and provides training and administration support.
- The services academy at Logan Park High School for students interested in government services such as the police or the army.
- Launchpad, which places young people in office jobs and enables them to attend polytechnic as part of their employment.
- A maintenance contract at Dunedin Botanic Garden.
- The Garage Sale, at 174 Princes St, which is run by volunteers and sells handcrafts and donated goods.
- The Restore Bargain Barn, run in partnership with Habitat for Humanity.




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