Working within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and education roles over the past 20 years has caused me to ask the questions, “what are the influences that lead our Indigenous Australians to survive, adapt, and overcome in the face of even the most punishing life-stressors”.
If I was to write a book about the amount of ‘Winyan’ (Sad) stories I have heard from students over the years – what they have encountered and still going through – most people would think it belonged in the fiction section of a library.
In Australia we hear of how we are investing millions in research that tells us how and why Indigenous communities lag behind in health, educational and social indicators, but we don’t look at what is working and invest our energy and resources targeting those who are getting it right.
Yarning with Graham Williams, one of my nursing students one day, he told me how he was a little tired as he had been caring for his 3 year-old-nephew. After disclosing his story, I learned that he was tackling multiple family issues on a daily basis; if I was to disclose these issues, most people would not believe his story.
Graham had 100% attendance in all of his practicum placements. He travelled a good distance from his residence, from where he had to catch 2 buses and a train to get to his placement. He didn’t drive as he couldn’t afford to get his licence or a vehicle. There were times where he would finish a shift at 9:30pm and be back for his next shift at 7am.
I understand many nurses do these shifts regularly however it’s looking through the lens of a 24-year-old young man and the issues he has to face on a daily basis to be making the choices he has made to be able to succeed.
Being the curious person that I am, I asked Graham why he didn’t end up in the life of crime and substance abuse like many of his friends and family and what made him make the choice of change for the better.
He told me it was down to one of his high school teachers that caught him doing gra ti on a wall. The teacher pulled him aside and told him that a choice can lead you two ways, in the positive and the negative.
The teacher told Graham that he had admirable capabilities if he really wanted to, he could make a positive impact on his life and possibly others. This made Graham stop and think, and finally believe in himself. The teacher pointed him in the direction of Marr Mooditj Training and mentored him into nursing.
When thinking back through some of the student stories and the disadvantages that they have encountered, continue to experience, and how they have overcome them, I have found that there is a strong emphasis on positive mentorship. Effective mentor programs emphasise the strengths of young people, encourage positive behaviour, participation and cultural support which enable self-belief and self- esteem.
At Marr Mooditj, we encourage integration and flexibility, to give our students the opportunity to achieve their goals. This is accomplished with solid mentorship, including access to Language Literacy, Numeracy Educators and Student Services with strong cross-cultural understanding. We also encourage students to celebrate their Aboriginality and share it with the staff and other students, and give our students space to heal during times of need. Overall, we maintain a fun learning environment where we allow our students every opportunity to meet their personal goals.