Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, Uncle Des, from our Ngaraang Gulin-jal Boordup, Aboriginal Health Team had been supporting a Men’s Group provided by our friends at Mullum Mullum Indigenous Gathering Place (MMIGP).
When the outbreak hit, he quickly worked with the Team at MMIGP to establish an online space for the group.
Read his account of this experience below, and how the group has grown from a few hundred to over 2000.
Hi, my name is Des Smith, the Aboriginal Health Facilitator from the Ngaraang Gulin-jal Boordup Aboriginal Health and Wellbeing Team at EACH.
We have all felt the challenges of working at home and navigating alternative ways of communicating with those in the community we work alongside, including staff and other professionals. There have been endless hours of talking to those we work with, checking in, making sure they’ve been cared for and providing support in this time of need.
Prior to the Coronavirus pandemic, I had been involved in the men’s program at Mullum Mullum Indigenous Gathering Place (MMIGP). With the help of Chris Hume, Aboriginal Cultural Officer, every Thursday evening, we would provide yarning circles with an emphasis on specific health issues to which 15-20 men would attend. The group provided an opportunity to build social connectedness, solidarity and trust within the group as men were welcomed without fear of being judged.
With restrictions in place due to COVID-19, MMIGP, like many organisations, had to suspend all programs and close up their office. This resulted in disappointment from members of the group as it meant an end to their gathering.
In response, I contacted Chris and suggested we set up a Men’s group on Facebook in the hope of keeping them connected and encouraging them to stay active. We named it the “Aboriginal Men’s Group”.
I would like to acknowledge the Admin team who have supported and contributed their time to the Aboriginal Men’s Group, leading to its success through the online social media platforms.
With the collective knowledge of Chris and Ralph Hume, we aimed to create a safe space to talk about health, life, cultural experiences, challenges, barriers and how to overcome them. The creation of the Facebook group has opened the opportunity to forge cultural threads and kinship connections to men throughout Australia. This inspired the group to learn and share knowledge from natural emerging leaders within the group.
To ensure cultural safety and social etiquette are maintained, a set of guidelines were established, which included any inappropriate comments or pictures being removed. For those who were uncomfortable in sharing within the wider group, we arranged individual sessions via Messager or Zoom, so they felt safe and more comfortable in knowing their discussions would remain confidential.
Within the first week, we had over 650 men. Today, we have over 2000 men nationwide with requests pending daily. The response we had was incredibly overwhelming. In the beginning, we were only looking at the men in the Eastern Region of Melbourne. We could never imagine the response we have received to date.
Thanks again to the team at Mullum Mullum Indigenous Gathering Place for their rapid response to a need in the community.
Cultural Advisor & Aboriginal Health Facilitator
Ngarrang Gulinj-al Boordup, Aboriginal Health and Wellbeing Team