Nearly half of all adults in remote Indigenous Australian communities struggle with chronic disease. In the Galiwin’ku community, one woman’s personal transformation has inspired a group of Indigenous women to improve their health. All suffering from a range of different conditions, they are exploring good food and lifestyle as a way to improve their health. By Dr Kama Trudgeon
Let me introduce Dianne Biritjalawuy - Yolngu community leader and world-changer! Dianne has recently made the difficult journey back from the brink of serious health issues. In response to an acute health scare that left Dianne wheelchair-bound with unstable ischemic heart disease and uncontrolled diabetes, I offered to cook for her, so that she could experience healing through wholesome food.
This experience was incredible.
Dianne went from being unable to walk short distances without feeling extremely breathless, to experiencing a new level of energy and vitality. She rapidly lost weight, her blood sugar levels normalized, and she was able to walk up hills with ease. Empowered to understand that she could transform her own health, she was then hungry for more information and tools to continue this new way of living. She was supported by Arhnem Human Enterprise Development (TEAR's partner, AHED) with education, cooking lessons and help to access healthy food options not usually available in her remote community.
Bepuka and Garngulkpuy Dhurrkay are trying a new diet to improve their health.
Dianne’s recovery was so profound that other community members saw it as evidence that nutrition was powerful and effective. This has caused a chain reaction, and other community members are now actively seeking out support to see this same turnaround in their own health.
With Dianne, a group of Yolngu ladies from Elcho Island, all suffering from chronic diseases, are now on a quest to improve their own health and turn their community around.
Together, we have found that Yolngu who are not taking control of their health do not have:
Having identified for themselves that healthy food and lifestyle is the key to energy, vitality and strength, these women identified what their community needed. It was a healing retreat, so Yolngu people could build knowledge and skills alongside actual experiences of feeling well as a result of living well. These women know they need to start with their own health, in order to be catalysts for healing in their community. In order to do this, and build their capacity to pioneer this work in their community, these courageous women want to travel to an established health retreat for intensive training.
So how can nine women, who live on a remote island in north-east Arnhem Land, get to a health retreat? The answer lay in crowd funding. They used the website http://www.startsomegood.com to tell their story and raise funds for their trip. They had an overwhelming response, and now have a crowd of generous people who have come alongside them for this journey.
Their dream is to take the experience and learning about nurturing wellness back to their community to work towards creating a local retreat and health coaching solution for the many sick people in their community. By running their own health retreat, they can incorporate Yolngu traditional knowledge with the best that modern nutrition has to offer.
This is their hope. To use their own experiences of healthy living, to enable their own community to overcome its current health crisis. These brave ladies are pioneers for their community, making the path easier for others to follow.
The biggest challenge for these ladies will be to integrate what they learn at the retreat into their everyday lives once they return to Elcho Island. This will include improving access to healthy foods. The local doctor is supportive, as is the local grocery store. They also want to train local Health Coaches, who have themselves been empowered in their health, who will support future participants.
Story Update - July 2017
Hope for Health is now being run by a team (local Indigenous people and mainstream professionals), trained by Tim and Kama. Since the first retreat, Hope for Health naturally spread to others in the community, with demand increasing as people wanted to explore further what was leading to change.
While many retreat participants are women, the last retreat had six men involved (most were husbands who were attending with their wives). One of them was Maritja, a musician and respected community Elder. This is what he said about his experience with Hope For Health:
"This Yolngu health improvement and transformation we have experienced through Hope for Health programs is second to none. It is the best because it integrates Yolngu knowledge systems and contemporary health practices, giving us good outcomes. We can make good choices, eat good food - healthy foods - and also help our families to stay healthy. I really like this holistic health program delivered by the Galiwin'ku Hope For Health program. I reckon this program should be supported by the government because it really works. Our health is greatly improved."
Health Coaches are also now part of the program – these are local people who can support others through the lifestyle change process. They provide skills training in cooking, exercise, and shopping. They are also able to educate people around disease prevention/treatment through health. The plan is to have six Health Coaches in the coming years, who work with long and short term health professionals.
Arnhem Human Enterprise Development is a project in responsive and sustainable development designed to bring hope, prosperity and new possibilities to desperately disempowered Indigenous communities in remote Australia. It is a TEAR Australia partner through the Dhumba program.
Dr Kama Trudgen is a medical doctor, who works with AHED as a community development facilitator. She and her husband Tim (an anthropologist) and two sons live in Elcho Island, where they have been based for several years. Kama and Tim accompanied the Yolngu ladies to ensure all information is translated into their language and communicated in culturally relevant frameworks.
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