Smacking her sparkly, glossed lips, the young Aboriginal girl pushes the plastic truck through the made-up little world we’ve created together on a table top.
As she natters away, narrating our game (sound effects and all), it’s hard to imagine that just a matter of months ago, this confident four-year-old could barely form a sentence.
With birth parents deemed by the state to be unfit to care for her, her adoptive mother tells us the child’s early years were spent bouncing between foster homes around Western Australia. There was no consistency in her care, no one to devote time to her learning.
Until, that is, she arrived here in Kupungarri, a small Aboriginal community of roughly 80 people tucked along the Gibb River Road, some 500km northeast of Broome. Along with the love of her new mum and dad, she had the lap of Yelonda Donation, a mother of two who operates the local playgroup.
“Because she’s a thumb sucker, you couldn’t hear her properly, how she was talking. She had that little bit of a double tongue on her,” the 36-year-old told us.
Yelonda is no speech therapist. Four hours from the nearest town, those sorts of services sweep in and out just a few times a year. Yolanda relies instead on instinct, time, story telling and an obvious gift for communicating with kids.
“I’d pick up some books at home and start reading and reading out loud. Then she came everyday just for more stories and just to look at my face and my lips when I’m speaking to her,” Yelonda told Mamamia.
It didn’t take long before there was a big change in the young girl: “I see her speaking out loud now, and want to tell me stories.”
This "chatterbox" of a kid isn't the only to have benefited from Yelonda's care. As the chief facilitator of the community's tiny playgroup, she's helping to mould the minds of seven little ones who call this dusty, red parcel of earth home.