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Group Work During COVID Times: Capturing the Hardwon Knowledge of Parents, Aunties and Grandmothers on raising strong kids in Borroloola

I received an invitation from a colleague this year to travel back to the Northern Territory to co-facilitate some narrative therapy group work with the Aboriginal women of Borroloola.  We had it all planned out.  It would have been a two day drive from Darwin to reach the remote township, then a trek over to Barrnayi, an island off the coast of the Gulf of Carpenteria for our two day camp.  I love it when collaborations like this come together – Telling Story, Artback NT and the Moriarty Foundation – bringing together good will and established therapeutic practice for positive community outcomes.  What we didn’t account for was the arrival of COVID 19 and the immediate closure of state and territory borders as well and lockdown in remote communities. 

Airfares were cancelled.  However, I wasn’t about to shelve this one without some serious thought into whether delivering the Tree of Life on-line was a possibility.  I learned later that this is called pivoting!

I had some doubts about whether we were going to be able to gather rich story from participants over a technology platform.  However, Sudha Coutinho had done a lot of work in Borroloola and already had established relationships with some of the women, so that was a positive starting point.  With some thoughtful deliberations and program modifications to the Tree of Life methodology, Sudha and I decided to ‘set sail’ and see where the adventure might take us on these unchartered waters. 

Facilitating the Tree of Life with ‘Zoom’ technology

We were very influenced by the beautiful work done by Anne Mead and Jasmine Mack in their application of the Tree of Life with parents of Roebourne.  Ideas such as home yarning, the tree visualisation meditation and crafting a community tree appealed to us.  Given the extra difficulties we would face interacting over a screen with our participants, we needed to pay attention to ways people could join in that did not require so much hands-on guidance.  

The program was delivered over five weekly morning sessions consisting of three hours with a break in the middle.  We posted out a big box of materials required including art supplies and resources prior to starting.  We hoped that our local Yanyawa Project Officer could work alongside us in navigating the use of these materials.  Each session generally consisted of an introductory activity such as using Tree Card images we created to check in with how people were feeling, followed by a yarning section with corresponding drawing or art making, and a collective conversation on what these stories meant to the community as a whole, then finishing with an invitation to undertake an exercise at home between sessions. We invited people to connect on the Workplace Chat App on their mobiles to continue the conversation and share images of what they discovered in their environment between sessions.  This is also where we, as facilitators, shared therapeutic documents based on the ‘rescued words’ from each session.  These five therapeutic documents were later incorporated into a Tree of Life booklet the women wanted to publish capturing their skills, knowledges and hopes for raising strong and healthy children. 

The women in Borroloola were on a learning journey with us

Over the project the following themes were explored using the tree as a metaphor for growing up strong children in the community.

  • The Sun – principles of caring.  Just like the sun shining down on little trees guides their growth, the principles that are important to us guide our caring.
  • Roots – History of place and story.  The roots follow the history of culture, linking us to stories, traditions and places of significance.
  • Trunk – Strengths of skills and knowledge. This includes the practical things we do to keep our families strong and to hold up our kids.
  • Bark – The Protective Layer.  Acknowledging the need to protect our children because the types of experiences our children have in life influence their development.
  • Leaves and Fruit – The important people and their gifts to us and our children.
  • Storms of Life – The things that try to get in the way of us bringing up strong and healthy kids and how we stand strong against them.
  • Branches – Our hopes and dreams for our children and family.
  • Planting Seeds – The actions we want to take to make our hopes and dreams grow.
    and;
  • Flowers – Ways we want to work together to make our community dreams blossom.

The women brought together their completed individual tree pictures and shared together their hopes for the future of their community as a ‘Collective Forest’ to stand strong against the storms of life.  We finished on physical actions of planting seeds into flowerpots as a reminder of their hopes and dreams coming to life, slowly but surely.

Forest of Life – Borroloola

We had to make lots of changes on the go and this required some quick thinking and flexibility on our part.  We needed to feel not so precious about sticking to our script, even more so, given the lack of ability to just jump in physically and rescue a situation.  The struggles as well as the delightful outcomes of this work are explored extensively on the video below, so I won’t repeat those here.  Let me just say that our doubts about gathering rich story were well and truly blown out of the water.  We gathered so much beautiful knowledge and wisdom from the mothers, aunties and grandmothers that participated, we couldn’t fit it all in the booklet.  If you do not have access to a hard copy, you can read an on-line version here.

The following video is a 17 minute snapshot of this work presented at the AASW 2020 Symposium.  Meanwhile, If you’d like to know more about using the Tree of Life over ‘Zoom’ technology, please contact us.  We are really open to sharing our work with you.


Invitation to be an Outsider Witness to the women’s stories from Borroloola

Reading the Tree of Life booklet about raising strong and healthy kids in Borroloola may spark thoughts about your own skills and knowledge, your hopes and dreams for your children, and help you stand against any storms you may face. If you would like to share these thoughts with the women you can email Telling Story at sudhacoutinho@gmail.com

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‘Connecting in Time and Place’ With Michelle Bates

Michelle Bates had spent most of her life in Sydney’s South West raising a family, but something else was calling her to the outback.  Moving to Tennant Creek for a short stint helping Aboriginal people understand and implement the National Disability Insurance Scheme Plan, Michelle found herself putting down roots after falling in the love with the colours, the country and the stories of the Warumungu people.

Among her various roles in Tennant Creek, Michelle is a counsellor and narrative practitioner, advocate, mentor and leader.  She volunteers at the Paterson Street Hub, a collective space in the main street of Tennant Creek which offers safety and opportunities for learning, sharing and contribution.  This is a delightful interview of what its like to fall in love with a place and do the work that you really love.

In Episode 34 of ‘Talk the Walk’ we explore:

  • What drew Michelle to Tennant Creek to find an anchored adventure and what keeps her there
  • The history of Michelle’s connection to working towards systems change and living well in community together
  • The impact of connection to place and the role of nurturing women on Michelle’s early life and its resonance in remote Australia
  • A narrative project unearthing the wisdom of Aboriginal children in story and play, witnessed by important adults in their lives
  • What it means to children to uncover stories about the things that are important to them in childhood 
  •  An opportunity for listeners to provide outsider witness responses to the stories of Tennant Creek children
  • Key values and qualities needed to work with children in remote communities
  • The story of Patterson St Hub, a thriving inspiring gathering place for community members
  • The challenges of living and working remotely and how struggles become rich opportunities for growth
  • The small sparkling moments of resistance that makes Michelle’s day
Listen to Stitcher

To listen to this episode simply click on the Play button below or listen via the Stitcher App for iOS, Android, Nook and iPad.

You can also subscribe to podcast and blog updates via email from the Menu on the Home Page.

Don’t forget, if you or someone you know would make a great interview on ‘Talk the Walk’, send us an email from the Contact Page.

Things to Follow up After the Episode

Michelle’s Masters project through The Dulwich Centre (link to be provided when available)

Patterson St Hub, Tennant Creek website

Patterson St hub on Instagram

Michelle Bates on Instagram

Connect with Michelle Bates on LinkedIn

Email Michelle at michelle.bates@ymail.com

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Re-writing Stories of Identity: Alicia’s Story

The first day I met Alicia, not that long ago, she said ‘I want to share my story with other people.  I want to help others who are going through similar struggles.’

In the few months that followed, I sat down to interview Alicia on her experience of having her children removed and the many years that followed, fighting to get them back.  This alone appeared to be a very powerful and healing experience for Alicia.  Our narrative conversations allowed Alicia to reclaiming her identity from one which was defined by the Child Protection system as ‘a worthless mother who was not going to get better’ to her preferred identity as a ‘strong-willed, stubborn but patient fighter who never stopped loving her kids’.

In narrative therapy, Denborough says “while we can’t always change the stories that others have about us, we can influence the stories we tell about ourselves and those we care about”.  In telling our stories in ways that focus on our strengths for getting through difficult times, we have the power to re-author our lives.  No longer are we trapped by the problem story that we have come to believe is true; we now have a new and different story of what we stand for and value in life.

Our therapy together has allowed Alicia to reclaim her ‘storytelling rights’ (Denborough 2017) and tell her story in a way that fits for her, not defined by others.  The Charter of Storytelling Rights includes:

  • the right to define their experiences and problem in their own words and terms.
  • the right not to have problems caused by trauma and injustice, located inside them, internally, as if there were some deficit in them.  The person is not the problem; the problem is the problem.
  • The right to have their responses to hard times acknowledged.
  • The right to know and experience that what they have learned through hard times can make a contribution to the lives of others in similar situations.

It is this last right, that Alicia now wishes to exercise.  Today, is the first time that Alicia is going public with her story.  This is an opportunity for you, the audience, to be witness to the alternative story Alicia is taking on about her life.

We invite you to read Alicia’s Story of ‘never, ever giving up’ and then send a message back to Alicia about how this story has changed you.  

If you know what it is like to experience child removal, we invite you to continue the conversation with us on our Facebook Group.

References:
Deborough, D. 2014, ‘Retelling the Stories of Our Lives Everyday Narrative Therapy to Draw Inspiration and Transform Experience’, Norton.

Aurukun Baby One Program_7

“You Don’t Have to Know Everything“ with Diana Jans

It is a short but oh so sweet conversation, this week on ‘Talk the Walk’.  As is so often the case, social workers are busy people and taking a half hour out of the daily schedule is precious time.  My guest is Diana Jans, an Aboriginal maternal health social worker with Apunipima Cape York Health Council.   After several years working as a teacher with vulnerable children, it was obvious to Diana she needed more skills to be able to meet their needs.  Join me, as we take a quick trip down memory lane with Diana and discover what it takes to be a remote social worker.

In episode 23 of Talk the Walk, we explore:

  • What drew Diane to a career in Social Work after years of teaching in the Cape York region
  • A typical day in the life of a maternal health social worker and the challenges facing pregnant Aboriginal women in remote Australia
  • What it means to Diane to be living and working on the country where her great, great grandparents were born
  • Why her mum would say Diane was destined to be a social worker because of the value, beliefs and principles installed in her early life, as survivors of the Stolen Generation
  • The soon to be released journal article called “Coming To Town”, an initiative of service providers in Cairns supporting pregnant mums travelling for medical appointments
  • Key findings from their research and lessons for social workers and other allied health workers in providing a culturally supportive service
  • Diane’s advice for social workers just starting out in the field and the kind of attributes needed for remote work

To listen to this episode simply click on the Play button below or listen via the Stitcher App for iOS, Android, Nook and iPad.
Listen to Stitcher
You can also subscribe to podcast and blog updates via email from the Menu on the Home Page.

Don’t forget, if you or someone you know would make a great interview on ‘Talk the Walk’, send us an email from the Contact Page.

Things to follow up after the episode

‘Coming to Town’ will be available soon via the Apunipima Cape York Health Council website 

Contact Diana Jans on 07 4037 7100

 

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Burnout and Vicarous Trauma:  An employee defect or a yearning for collective action for social justice?

If you work in the area of trauma counselling, chances are you have an organisation or colleagues keeping a watchful eye out for the first signs and symptoms of burnout or vicarious trauma.

In my workplace we have to complete two tests every year – the Compassion Fatigue Self Test for Practioners and the Trauma and Attachment Beliefs Scale.  We also have regular training so that employees can identify the symptoms in each other.

While it might be considered admirable for our organisations to have a Vicarious Trauma Policy and working proactively to promote the health and wellbeing of its employees, what is it that is really happening here?  And what effect is this having?

If someone returns high results to vicarious trauma testing, the onus is on the individual to address it.  They are encouraged to revisit their self care plan or self refer to the Employee Assistance Program.  This kind of response pathologises the problem and locates it within the individual, that the counsellor is somehow defective or not strong enough.   It follows then that the client is to blame for somehow causing an injury by sharing their story with us.   Vikki Reynolds says using self care as an antidote for burnout “does nothing about the social determinants of health for people….  The problem is not in our heads or our hearts, but in the social world where clients and workers struggle with structures of injustice.”  Vikki argues that assuming a position where clients are seen to be hurting us is not an act of accountability at all.

In Darwin where I practice, we are surrounded by some of the worst cases of injustice in Australia such as the mistreatment of youth in detention, the highest rates of removal of Aboriginal children from their families and concerning numbers of child abuse within the foster care system.  Not far from us, refugees on Manus Island continue to suffer.

Sometimes it can feel overwhelming to hear the sad and heartbreaking stories of abuse and violence and the impact this has had on our clients.  And yes, I see and hear the impacts of intergenerational trauma outside my house; it’s difficult to escape it sometimes.  However, I return a normal vicarious trauma result.  I also hear inspiring stories of skills, knowledge and strengths of survival; stories of people speaking out to the Royal Commission so that the same thing doesn’t happen to other people; stories of people taking action to reduce the isolation caused by their poverty and homelessness.  I admire the steps of resistance my clients make against systems of injustice.  Indeed, clients do not hurt us, but instead inspire us, teach us and critique us says Reynolds.

The biggest critique our clients could legitimately make is why we, as workers, are not ‘fostering collective sustainability’*, coming together in solidarity to challenge the institutions and systems which marginalise and victimise our clients.

Indeed the collective silence of social workers in Australia is more likely to lead to my potential burnout, due to my frustration with the profession.  Why are social workers not out on the streets marching together to get Manus Island refugees to Australia?  Why are we silent in our support of our Indigenous comrades in the fight for Recognition?  Why are we standing back and allowing removal of Aboriginal children from families to go up and up?  Isn’t that why we entered this profession in the first place, to make a real difference to the social structures of injustice?  I was once accused of getting too close to a community because I cared too much, and was threatened to be removed by my employer.  However I was proud of my role as an advocate for social justice for the community and its people.

Social justice activism is a protective factor against vicarious trauma.  It’s not our clients that are hurting us.  It is our silence and inaction.

Perhaps the care we can show our colleagues is not to watch out for signs or symptoms of vicarious trauma in the workplace, but to gather in solidarity around shared ethics of social justice and collective accountability.  Let’s get out on the streets and do what we signed up for.

*‘Fostering collective sustainability’ is one of the guiding intentions advocated by Vikki Reynold in Justice Doing in Community Work and Therapy.
Photo by ABC

“Telling the Stories of our Lives” with Sudha Coutinho

You don’t have to search too far to listen to the stories of despair, destruction or trauma in Aboriginal communities.  These are widely played out in our media.  However if we listen with intention much deeper, we will find something richer and more telling.  The absent but implicit in these stories, are signs of strength, hope and resilience.

Listening in this way is a practice that goes to the heart of Sudha Coutinho’s clinical and community development work.   Sudha trained as an occupational therapist and was drawn to narrative therapy as a way of engaging her clients in the fields of mental health, suicide prevention and training.

I came across one of Sudha’s more recent projects when I was invited to respond to some stories collected as part of the Telling Stories project in Kulumbaru.  Sudha says she has “always been interested in stories- those we tell about ourselves and those others tell about us – and the power in these stories to influence both the storyteller and the listener.”

Sudha also tells a really good story herself.  With over 20 years working in the Northern Territory, alongside and with Indigenous Australians, this episode is one bloody good yarn.

In episode 15 of Talk the Walk, we explore:

  • How Sudha came to be working in the Kimberley, discovering herself and her way in occupational therapy from a narrative perspective
  • Why moving away from the ‘expert model’ to share our own story is essential for relationship building
  • What a genuine cultural immersion looks and feels like
  • Moving from a medicalised mental health/psychiatry model of clinical practice to a focus on social and emotional wellbeing
  • Indigenous concepts of wellbeing which incorporate spiritual and cultural aspects of self
  • Practice as an art, not just a science
  • Sudha and the team filming on location in Kalumburu

    How ‘Telling Stories’ came to be; the intent and thinking behind the project and the narrative methodology behind the approach

  • The digital archives of strength, hope and resilience featuring stories of Kalumburu community; and how these stories were gathered
  • The role and power of outsider witness practices; and the effect this had re-authoring the Kalumburu community story
  • How you can watch the stories from Kalumburu and what to include in a response back to the community
  • Sudha’s biggest challenges commonly shared amongst community development projects and how to think creatively to overcome them
  • Evaluating a narrative project
  • A story about the effect the Kalumburu stories project has had on Sudha’s personal life; and what Sudah loves about narrative practice
  • How listening to difficult stories can actually be transforming in positive ways for practitioners and not always a cause for vicarious trauma or burnout
  • An invitation for you to join the conversation about how you listen to story within your own practice.  Please write a comment below or join the conversation on Facebook.

To listen to this episode simply click on the Play button below or listen via the Stitcher App for iOS, Android, Nook and iPad.
Listen to Stitcher
You can also subscribe to podcast and blog updates via email from the Menu on the Home Page.

Don’t forget, if you or someone you know would make a great interview on ‘Talk the Walk’, send us an email from the Contact Page.

Things to follow up after the episode

Telling Our Stories in Ways that Make us Stronger by Barbara Wingard and Jane Lester

Watch a video and send a message back to the Kalumburu community and the storyteller at the Telling Story project on vimeo

Sudha’s blog about the Telling Story project on ABC Open

Contact Sudha Coutinho at sudhacoutinho(at)gmail(dot)com

Contact the Telling Story project at tellingstoryproject(at)gmail(dot)com

An artists interpretation of family surrounded by wild waters.

‘The Bold and the Beautiful’ with Josephine Lee

The bold and beautiful, Josephine Lee

My guest on Episode 3 of ‘Talk the Walk’ is Josephine Lee. Josephine is a Gudjula woman from North Queensland whose social worker career spands almost 30 years.  Jo is committed to anti-oppressive, anti-racist, therapeutic and relationship-based practices as well as creative and hope-focused practices.
In true traditional style, this ended up feeling like a yarn around the campfire, than an interview.  Josephine takes us on a deep journey into her life growing up and how this has shaped the person she is today.  Her biggest influences on her social work practice is life itself.  This includes in her words

“moments of suffering that you think you cannot get through; moments of joy that you think you cannot believe has happened; good people; lessons learnt from bad; being given opportunities; being brave to take up the opportunities; forgiving yourself when you stuff up, learn and grow; kindness is a strength; beautiful art, music, writing, and so many things that have contributed to hope focussed approach; talk with belief, especially to those who have given up.”

It was truly a privilege to hear Josephine’s raw and honest account of the struggles in life and work.  Josephine is unashamedly and unapologetically frank in her assessment of the state of social work and humanity on the planet.  If you want to hear the brutal truth about what an Aboriginal social worker really thinks about our white middle class profession, but in a gentle kind way, then you’re in the right place.
This episode explores:
• What is hope-focused practice and how it differs from strengths based practice
• The impact of Aboriginal policy and racism on Jo’s family history which ultimately shapes her practice and her life
• Jo’s view of the world as a ‘social justice cake’
• The circumstances that led to Jo taking up social work as a career
• Jo’s reflection on her own personal experience of social workers involved in her childhood
• Lessons on responsibility and what social justice in action really means
• Special photos that have significance to Jo’s life and work (see below)
• Child removal as the impact of colonisation
• Cautions for social workers following the current trends in treatment without bringing a cultural lens and critical reflection
• The traps that white middle class social workers might fall into which leads to hopelessness and helplessness
• A blunt warning for social workers who don’t enter Aboriginal communities with respect
• What it means to walk alongside someone on a painful but healing journey of self discovery for deep nourishment and flourishment to happen
• The power of narrative therapy in working with Indigenous clients
• What is reflective social work practice REALLY
• Black empowerment theory and why it’s greater than feminist theory

“If you walk softly on this Mother Earth, you have tried your best to take care for her, and all life, and you did so with dignity and grace — that is a truly well-lived life.”Josephine Lee, July 2017

Josephine speaks about the following photographs in this interview.

Josephine’s maternal side of the family.

Josephine with her mother and siblings.

An artists interpretation of family surrounded by wild waters.

The picture a client identified as to what being happy with life looks like.

Please note, due to the length of this interview, it has been split into two parts.  Tune in next week to hear the final part of our conversation.
Warning: occasional explicit language.
Just click on the Play Button below and enjoy!  We hope to have ‘Talk the Walk’ listed on popular podcatchers like iTunes very soon.  Or subscribe by email via our Home Page.
Don’t forget, if you or someone you know would make a great interview on ‘Talk the Walk’ send us an email from the Contact Page.

Things to follow up after the episode

Various Books by Christine Fejo King

About Wayne McCashen

‘Black Empowerment: Social Work in Oppressed Communities’ by African American social worker, Barbara Bryant Solomon

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The Power of Story in Standing up to Violence: A Child’s Perspective

Patricia readingIn Aboriginal culture, storytelling is a way of connecting with the relationship system, an ancient tradition that has been practiced throughout the generations.  Often it is Elders telling their grandchildren stories about their ancestors, that have great significance for their future lives.

In Western cultures it could be adults reading fairy tales or adventure stories to children at bedtime.

Children are great story tellers too.

If we take the time to stop and listen carefully, they have great adventures to tell.  Children are active little people, learning new skills and taking on knowledge from role models around them.  These things help them grow and develop, and come in handy when times get tough.

When children are living with violence in their families, they are drawing on the skills, knowledge and strengths they have learnt, to help them cope, keep themselves safe and stay strong.  They are standing up to violence!
Children who live with violence in their families and communities, come from all parts of Australia and many different cultural backgrounds.

When I was working as a children’s counsellor in remote Aboriginal communities between 2009 and 2013, I heard many stories of violence and trauma and helped the children document their strengths and abilities in surviving these hard times.  I recently reconnected with one of these boys whom I supported for several years and is now in high school.  He and his Aunty gave me permission to share publicly one of the stories he wrote, in the hope that it might help other children who are also experiencing violence or abuse.

Feel free to download and share this story with any children you may be working with.
A story about Anger

You or your client may also like to send a story back to us (email lucy@metaphoricallyspeaking.com.au).  I am happy to send on messages to the author of this story.  Here are some questions that might guide your message.

  • As you listened to the story, were there any words that caught your attention? Which ones?
  • When you heard these words, what pictures came to your mind about the person and what is important to them (eg. their hopes, dreams, values and beliefs)?   Can you describe that picture?
  • What is it about your own life that helped you connect with these words and pictures?
  • How might you think and act differently, after having heard this story?

We hope by sharing this story, that other voices of children living with violence are heard loud and strong.

I have a dream that we might be able to gather a whole collection of children’s stories of experiences of trauma and resilience.  And that this might be shared with the adults who have used violence or abuse in their relationships.

This may be just the tool needed to help those languishing in our prisons to think about the impact of their behavior on their loved ones and the possibility of a different way of living.

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How a Life of Devotion to Kinship Care saved Patricia from Death by Heart Disease

Patricia works as a Child and Family Support Worker at Relationships Australia NT

Patricia works as a Child and Family Support Worker at Relationships Australia NT

It was a total accident that Patricia Munkara came to be employed at Relationships Australia as an Aboriginal Child and Family Support Worker.  Another Patricia in the community had applied for the job and when I went knocking on doors trying to find her, I ended up going to the wrong house.  Or the right house depending on how you look at it.  It was Patricia Munkara that ended up with the job.  And I am so grateful she did.  Now five years later, Patricia has also joined the Healing Our Children project.

There are many things that I admire about Patricia, not least of which was her decision to adopt her grandson six years ago and raise him as her own.  This required Patricia to turn her back on a life of gambling, smoking and family unrest.

“He [Patrick] was like an underweight baby, 6 months old, and he was all covered in sores.  We didn’t have welfare that time.  But luckily I talked to my niece about me and my partner, giving him to us.  ‘We can grow him up’ I said.  He [Patrick] made me change.”

“I used to gamble, get involved in fighting and violence, arguing with other family.  When Patrick came into my care, I learnt bit by bit…. to look after him”

“It changed my life you know, doing good things for him.”

“I want to teach him growing up, take him to school everyday, make sure I keep him healthy.  When he is sick I take him to clinic straight away.”

Patricia had clear hopes and dreams for Patrick including teaching him to be independent, work for himself and look after himself.

“Mum was a rolemodel.  She taught me everything.  How to be independent myself.  ‘Look after yourself’ my mum said, ‘maybe in the future you’ll have your brothers grandchildren or children [to look after]’.  And that’s true, her word.  She taught me how to hunt when there’s no food…She said ’You might go hunting for your brothers kids or grandchildren’.  Now I’m doing that.”

“My mum was an adopted kid too.  That’s what I’m doing now.  Me and Rosita (my sister) growing up kids”. 

“I don’t want him (Patrick) when he finish up school to walk around like bludger, doing bad things.  Instead [he do] good things.”

One of Patricia’s other strength is her faith and culture.  This is something that was also passed down from her mum and dad.

“I had to pray, go to church.  I remember crying for my mum and dad when they used to go to church.  I used to run behind them when they leave me home.”

“I always be with my dad when he do that kulama ceremony…. He taught me hunting, where my country is, from each place.  I still remember going to our country.  Our dad took us there when I was a little girl.  And we’re teaching our children now.”

Patricia working in the Healing Our Children project.

Patricia working in the Healing Our Children project.


Patricia says one of the big motivations for her to become a carer was her knowledge that Patrick was going to grow up without the love of a father.  This is where Andrew, her partner comes in as a strong male role model.

“… other kids are bullying and teaching him wrong things, behaviour like swearing and backtalk.  I don’t like it… He’s got that cheeky attitude because of those other friends.  So Andrew said ‘OK, bring him here [to Raminginging].  [It’s] my turn, I’m gonna teach him now.  Andrew gonna grow him up and make him man.  So he learn ‘lore’ and he understand behaviour.”

“Andrew will make sure he is [learning about] healthy weight and eating.  Andrew teach him about hunting and bush tucker.“

Life hasn’t been easy for Patricia.  She has suffered from rheumatic heart disease, the number one killer of young people on the Tiwi Islands.

 “I had twice heart surgery.  Before I went to Adelaide I was still crying for [Patrick].  The doctor told me that I had two choices.  Whether you gonna live or whether you gonna finish.  He said to me ‘I give you this pacemaker then you will last longer…and see your grandson growing’.  I said to the doctor ‘I don’t want to die, leave my grandson’.  I want to raise him up, see him grow, have a little family of his own.”

Patricia with Patrick (right) and his younger brother Albert.

Patricia with Patrick (right) and his younger brother Albert.

So strong is her faith, love and devotion to Patrick, Patricia has even cheated death, to make sure she is around to finish what she started.

“Yeah, Jesus and Mary, they were calling out to me and waking me up.  I can remember how I slept, and I was finish, my heart was stopped…When I heard that voice, it was calling out to me get up, get up.  I opened my eyes and I saw that bright light.  I was in a strange room.  I was nearly finish, three days finish, in intensive care… All them nurses, doctors and everything, they had put it [defribulator] on my chest.  It wasn’t them that bought me back to life, because I seen that bright light.  He [Jesus] was still there standing beside me.  He said ‘you not dead, you still alive’.  He said, ‘I know what you worrying for…[you are] too much worrying for Patrick and you didn’t want to leave him behind”.

Patricia also believes in the power of culture for healing, something she learned from her father.

“Our doctor told my mum and dad ‘your child got asthma’.  My dad used to go hunting every day and when I finished school I always see long bum, mangrove worm, mud muscles cooking.  I used to eat that after school.  When Kulama ceremony came, my dad gave me that potato to eat, that chilli potato cured my asthma…. Following week I went to check with doctor, no more puffer for me.  And when they found out, they sent me for x ray, they thought I had lung problem but nothing.  No more short of breath, nothing.”

Patricia is one of the strongest people I know when it comes to tough love and protecting herself from the stress of family humbug.  The warning signs of feeling weak and low blood pressure means she takes some time out for herself.

“I help myself.  I stay home, watch TV.  Sit outside for fresh air or listen to music.  Or go for a walk to the airport and come back.  When night-time come….sometimes say a little bit of prayer then sleep.”

Thinking about the impact that Patricia has had on Patrick’s life, she recalls Patrick telling her recently

“Amawu [grandma], I can remember everything you taught me, I’m still growing and I’m still gonna learn more from you.  And I’m gonna teach my little brother.” 

For Patricia the impact on her is profoundly simple “He has given me new life.”

But the last word should go to Patrick. When I asked him what was the best thing about his grandma he replied

“Amawu tells me go to school and learn everyday.’

Patricia is now considering having another two children come into her kinship care.  Despite being on the Disability Pension, Patricia chooses to work because she is passionate about protecting children in her community and supporting women who are struggling. It’s a privilege to work alongside such an inspirational strong woman.

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‘Recipes of Life’: Sharing Delicious Food and Messages of Hope with Refugees and Asylum Seekers

Ma Aye looks at salt to stop crying

Ma Aye looks at salt to stop crying

Did you know that if you look at salt while cutting onion, you won’t cry?  Or if you drink a raw bantam egg mixed with honey you will grow strong?  No neither did I.  I’ve learnt a lot over these past few months.  Not just about food, but also the incredible strengths and resilience that shines through the stories of refugees and asylum seekers.  Such is the beauty of ‘Recipes of Life’*.  This collective narrative methodology, which I’ve talked about in a previous post, offers a safe way of bringing people together who may have experienced difficulties in their lives to build on their collective strengths, skills and knowledge.

In recent years, Darwin has seen a rapid rise in the number of people being locked up in detention centres having arrived on our shores by boat from Indonesia.  It has been difficult to stand by, relatively powerless and witness the desperate pleas of asylum seekers and how they are treated. Fortunately, we have DASSAN, a great bunch of volunteers who provide visitation and advocacy services to those in detention.  I happened to meet one such volunteer last year and we decided to trial a small group using the ‘Recipes of Life’program at the Mulch Pit Community Garden.  By the time, we found funding, government policy had changed and not many asylum seekers were being released into the Darwin community so our group was mostly made up of settled refugees. Although this made our task of communicating with group participants a little easier as many refugees have basic beginners English, we still had a group representing four different language groups.

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Creating food recipes using art materials

Without funding for translators, we plowed ahead and many parts of the program were adapted to accommodate more non-verbal methods of communication through doing, showing, acting, using hands, drawing, painting and using images.  This contributed to many laugh-out-loud moments, and inspired the women to help each other share their stories.  Using persistence and patience with us as facilitators and each other, somehow the group bonded!

One of the major achievements was the production of a Recipes Book featuring the participant’s favourite Food Recipes cooked and eaten in the on-site outdoor kitchen, as well as Recipes of Life featuring their strengths and skills, and Special Recipe Tips for surviving difficult times. Collectively, they also wrote a Recipe for Starting Life in a New Country.  Their hope is that this recipe will benefit other refugees who have just settled in Australia.

Sharing recipes and cooking food

Sharing recipes and cooking food

Outcomes included building new relationships amongst participants, connecting refugees to new resources at Nightcliff including the op-shop and community garden, improved English skills and confidence in the community, and increased knowledge about growing and cooking tropical food.  A lovely surprise was the spontaneous participation of partners, children and other family members, who would pop up in at different times during the program, either to lead cooking activities, resume natural food harvesting responsibilities or feast at the table.

I have no doubt this method would work just as well with other cultural groups, including Aboriginal women, men and young people.  I wonder what special tips they would have to teach us about food and about life…

If you’d like to find out more about the program or send a message back to the women who created the Recipes Book, we would love to hear from you through our Contact Page.

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Final Week Celebration with ‘Recipes of Living’ families

* Recipes of Life is a methodology developed by Natalie Rudland-Wood