Making all our Families Well
1 May 2012 | Blog | Long-term Development | Australia
Remote Australian Indigenous communities are grappling with the social impact of chronic illnesses such as kidney disease.
One of our newest partners, Western Desert Nganampa Walytja Palyantjaku Tjutaku Aboriginal Corporation (WDNWPT) loosely translates to ‘Making all our families well’.
WDNWPT is a grassroots organisation that is strengthening communities and making a real difference to improve the lives of those with renal (kidney) failure.
Located in The Purple House* at Alice Springs, this organisation supports dialysis patients suffering end stage renal failure who have been dislocated from their country and culture, to receive treatment at urban hospitals.
For cultural continuity and wellbeing, the patients need to maintain their connections to home and this organisation is helping them do just that.
“Making all our families well is the foundation of what happens through WDNWPT and is our underlying philosophy, our mission statement” said Michelle Sweet, Wellbeing Coordinator.
“Relationship and family are central to the people we work with and who run this organisation.”
With her 20-year background in naturopathy, Michelle has assisted the dialysis patients with a social enterprise, focusing on the production of their bush balms. In addition to the balms being prized treatments, they support retention of culture by passing traditional medicinal knowledge onto younger generations. The project helps the organisation financially and provides an opportunity for younger women to develop business and marketing skills.
However, to understand fully why this organisation is so vital we need to look at why it began.
History of WDNWPT
In the 1990s, an increasing number of people from the Western Desert were forced to move to Alice Springs for renal dialysis treatment. These people were missing home and their families; they weren’t able to be in their communities – teaching their children and grandchildren.
As a result of dislocation and the consequent loss of cultural engagement and connection to family and country, the patients felt an increasing sense of sadness and loss. Their families were determined to change this; to find creative ways to assist them to access dialysis while acknowledging cultural priorities and their place in wellbeing.
In 2000, after a very successful auction of Australian Aboriginal art at the Art Gallery of NSW, WDNWPT started its ‘Return to Country’ program, getting people home for overnight visits between dialysis treatments. Shortly after, the patient support program commenced to help improve the quality of life for patients in Alice Springs.
In August 2004, the organisation opened the first remote renal dialysis clinic in Central Australia at Walungurru (Kintore). There are now clinics at Ntaria (Hermannsburg) and Yuendumu. Plans are well advanced for a service in Lajamanu, with three years of Aboriginal Benefits Account (ABA) funding available.
In 2011 WDNWPT launched their Purple Truck. Funded by Medicines Australia, the truck, complete with dialysis machine on board is able to travel to remote communities across Central Australia regardless of state and territory borders.
Five social determinants of health
For cultural continuity and wellbeing, the patients who range in age from 23-75 need to return home. Not only for their own sense of self, but as they possess the richest understanding and knowledge of language and traditional culture, they are responsible for transferring that knowledge to younger generations.
Permanent removal from their communities fractures this process and creates significant stress for individuals who are unable to meet their cultural obligations. They also feel a tremendous sense of loneliness and despair, and their communities are lessened by their absence.
“We understand in Pintupi society there are five social determinants of health,” said Michelle. “And they are: ngurra (connected to land), walytja (connected with family), tjukurrpa (living in the dreaming), kulyintjaku (process of listening and learning) and nintintjaku (knowledge, or knowing).
“Without these things, people don't feel healthy. In hospital people feel lonely and sick because they are not on country, away from family, away from their dreaming stories, unable to perform songs and dances, unable to teach their kids and disconnected from the 'knowing' and sharing.”
*The Purple House was gifted to the organisation in 2007 by the Kintore Council. What was an abandoned building now has four dialysis machines, a community kitchen and a three bedroom house. For more about WDNWPT, head to www.wdnwpt.org.au
This article is featuring in the winter 2012 issue of our quarterly magazine, Caritasnews. Subscribe or read online (out 6 June 2012).
Read more about Caritas Australia’s Indigenous Australia programs here.
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