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Health initiative proves to be one real success story


Category: Headline News
Published Date


One of the most successful of the Aboriginal community-controlled sectors in the country over recent decades has been the health sector and last week 30 Indigenous high school students from across the country converged on the nation’s capital to take one further step on their own paths to a career in health.

Murra Mullangari, an initiative of the Australian Indigenous Doctors Association (AIDA) and their partners in the Indigenous health field, brought the Year 10, 11 and 12 students together for a week in Canberra that aimed to inspire Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to pursue a career in health and to support them in their transition from secondary school to the health workforce.

Jilpia Nappaljari was there at the very beginning of Aboriginal community-controlled health having been “involved” in the founding of the very first Aboriginal Medical Service (AMS), Redfern.

“I was involved in the Aboriginal Medical Service when it first started and worked with Fred Hollows at the National Trachoma and Eye Health,” Ms Nappaljari said.

She sees programs like Murra Mullangari opening options for the young participants that Indigenous people had to fight much harder for previously.

“As I told some of the young people who came up and spoke to me ‘just remember, the world is your oyster’.”

Ms Nappaljari believes this and similar programs will secure the future of Aboriginal self-determination.

“It’s good, as an old person we’re not going to live very long and it’s good to see it’s been taken on,” she said.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Mick Gooda agrees saying events like this are “succession planning” and the inspiring thing is there were over 200 applicants for only 30 places available.

“This is part of succession planning and what we’re seeing now is our young kids, you can see it here, leaving school and going straight into university whereas in the past a lot of our students have been mature age students,” Mr Gooda said.

“That’s an evolution that’s happening now and that’s an indication of the increase of achievement in the education field, so I think it’s pretty exciting. I think for this conference the thing that gets me is more than 200 kids applied for 30 places.

“How great is that to come down to talk about working as doctors, working in the allied health areas, so I just think it’s so just deadly to see these kids here, and they will take over,” Mr Gooda said.

Pat Anderson, one of the co-authors of the “Little Children are Sacred report and Chairperson of the Lowitja Institute Board, agrees with Mr Gooda the event is inspiring but said it showed the unevenness of Aboriginal opportunity around the country.

“It’s a wonderful initiative by AIDA and they’re to be heartily congratulated on such a program and project and the fact they had more than 200 applicants is just amazing but also I think, a bit more controversially, it demonstrates very tellingly the unevenness of what’s happening in education for Aboriginal people,” Ms Anderson said.

“I’m from the Northern Territory and it’s wonderful but there aren’t any kids from the Northern Territory here who are participants, I’ve checked the list.

“In a lot of the more isolated communities we’re not doing so well but maybe some of these young people might take that on as one of their leadership tasks to try to tackle that unevenness there,” she said.

Jody Broun, Co-Chair of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples and Co-Chair of the National Health Leadership Forum (NHLF), sees events like this as a crucial part of the Closing the Gap strategy, a strategy few non-Indigenous people realise was actually started by Aboriginal community-controlled organisations before being taken over by the Council of Australian Governments.

“The issue with the Close the Gap, the actual Close the Gap was it came from the ground, it came from the communities, it’s really about us and our communities taking the lead and taking control,” Ms Broun said.

“This is great because you’ve got young people who want these jobs in communities and too often you go to an Aboriginal community and all the health providers are white fellas from outside the communities.

“Whether it’s teachers or health workers we need to take control of that ourselves and see that these jobs in these communities are for our young people,” she said.

“There are people out there who want these skills and my view, and the Congress’ view, is the communities need the opportunity to take that control back and not be disempowered.

“Governments need to step back a bit, they do need to facilitate it, there is a role for government funding and government services but it’s about decision-making and it’s about the control the communities take and NACCHO (National Aboriginal Community-Controlled Health Organisation) is a good example of that because it is community controlled. They decide the services they deliver.

“These are young people who will be a part of that, you can see how much confidence they have got and some additional skills and having some belief in themselves is really important and the support they’ll get through this program and hopefully there’ll be development of that as well,” Ms Broun said.

Outside of the actual benefits that will flow from all these additional Indigenous health workers, Ms Broun sees hope in what other young Indigenous people will see is possible for them too.

“There are all these young people out there doing so well that we don’t hear about, we only hear about negative stories, particularly around our youth, so it really does give you a lot of faith in the future,” Ms Broun said.

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