Hope For Health Retreat – April 2019

In April 2019 a group of 28 courageous Yolngu participants from Elcho Island took part in a 2 week live in health journey to experience a different way of eating and living. They put their bodies on the line and personally engaged in the fight against the epidemic of chronic disease overwhelming their own remote community. By embracing this process for themselves, they are empowered with knowledge, energy and capacity to be the role models their families and community so desperately need.

The Hope for Health retreat is a comprehensive residential health experience. The time is spent moving, playing, dancing, learning, creating (incredible artworks), and of course eating amazing nutritious food. Participants receive medical reviews, naturopathic consultations, massages and osteopathic treatments – all from deeply committed and qualified volunteer practitioners. The food is based on the framework of the Yolngu traditional diet. Daily workshops communicated in Yolngu Matha, build nutrition knowledge and practical food skills for participants to continue to apply when they return home.

Warren Buyulma (male participant): “I’m feeling stronger every day. I want to get this health message out to other communities…..”

Glenda (Female participant): “I’m feeling full of joy and energy, time to start dancing!”

Helen Guyupul (Steering Committee Member and HfH staff member): “We are making these changes to our health for our children…they will be more healthy too”

It’s an incredible gift to see the physical and mental transformation that can happen in such a short space of time, and to see people inspired with hope and direction for their children and the future of their community. The retreat is a powerful process that empowers each participant through a lived experience, and it communicates to participants that they have control over many factors that determine their health. But this is just the first step of an epic journey. Change is hard, and Yolngu have many barriers to overcome. Broc Martin is the Hope for Health Health Coach mentor based on Elcho Island.

Here he shares some reflections upon his return after the Retreat to Elcho Island, where he continues to work alongside the participants:

I had not long settled in (I’m a terrible flyer even on short flights) when the flight attendant made the normal rounds offering food and drink. There was something about this moment in time that will forever be seared in my mind. As the flight attendant made her way along the aisle offering Muffins and Tim Tams, it was as if every person on that plane was suddenly faced with a choice. Regardless of people’s decision, this moment could well be the first time in these beautiful people’s lives that they were afforded the opportunity to make a choice armed with the facts and a new understanding of the relationship between food and body. I politely declined the chocolate covered wafer on offer and dove deep into my mind attempting to prepare myself mentally for what was about to begin back on the Island.

I admired the complex river systems and beaches of North East Arnhem Land from 30,000 feet and the only words I could use to describe it would be God’s Country. As we began our descent, I remembered the conversations I had had earlier with the people on the plane about what they could have for dinner and the options available to them from the local ALPA store if they wanted to continue eating the way they had been at the Retreat for the last two weeks. While in Darwin I had bought 30 avocados and once we landed handed them out frantically, again recapping on simple cost-effective meals. Options were limited, meat was extremely expensive, fresh produce was barged in weekly and aisles of the shops were overflowing with sugar and processed food. Despite these challenges there was hope, and the hope was tangible. After doing numerous drop offs over all parts of the community (many families do not have motorcars or simply do not drive), I made my own way to ALPA seeking a lamb chop and fancying my chances for some fresh vegetables on a Sunday night. Many of the same people I had dropped off were all in the shop huddled around the vegetable section and buying eggs and meat. I was bombarded with questions about food and came to the realization there was such a knowledge gap in regard to what was food in the “balanda“ shop. The information workshops had ignited a passion and the experience of feeling for themselves what good food can and will do to the body, was a driving force behind their motivation.

It was so real and measurable. I was a part of this story from the beginning of their journeys to this pivotal moment of post retreat re-entry. I knew right then that I would continue to walk alongside these people and there was nothing else in the world that I was meant to be doing with my life. It had been such a blessing to be a part of the Hope for Health retreat held 50km south of Darwin on a magnificent property called Riyala (running water). From the participant’s transformation to meeting other incredible people who were volunteering their time and skills to the retreat. The sharing of stories and knowledge from both Balanda and Yolngu. The dancing, laughter, tears and joys. A drawn-out moment shared by all and one not to be forgotten quickly. Many a life was changed for the better on that retreat and healing begun on much more than a physical level, it was as if people’s spirits were being awoken day by day. The exercise, the food, the fellowship, the information and treatment options were all blending together to play their part in awakening spirits and instilling hope.

I woke up to the sound of my alarm at 6:00am and went through my morning ritual a little quicker than usual. As I laced up my shoes, I wondered how many people would be at beach camp for the rendezvous. This was our first morning back post-retreat and I could only speculate as to what to expect. As I strolled down the hill towards the beach, I saw a small group of women gathered in the distance also walking towards to the beach. As we took off admiring the sun rising from the east, there was a buzz amongst everyone and little did I know these morning walks would soon become the highlight of my day. There were 14 people on the beach exercising that first morning. Change is never easy for anyone in any environment. I know the Yolngu people whom I now walk alongside face barriers far greater than any I have ever had to navigate but I was yet to fully understand. It’s a unique space to be with people who are highly motivated and genuinely trying to implement actions related to lifestyle change. People become vulnerable, extremely honest in sharing their struggles in hope of a solution. The list of barriers is endless and unique to the person themselves. Finance manageability, Family pressures, Kinship obligations and responsibilities, the knowledge gap and multiple systemic barriers all affect people’s everyday life in the community. Faced with this harsh reality a feeling of being overwhelmed momentarily loomed over me. It truly felt like a David vs Goliath battle. I acknowledged that feeling and dismissed it for what it was, remembering the words of a dear old friend of mine –“feelings are not facts”.  I was part of a movement of hope and it was my role to ensure people were afforded the opportunity to continue to access whatever it was they needed to continue with their journey.

Broc articulates well via his recent experiences – why Hope for Health exists. We are so grateful for all those supporting us as we work together to enable vitality and health amongst Yolngu and Indigenous people.

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