Our First Traditional Health Retreat

One of our participants summed up what it is all about: “This is the first time that i have felt my body rejoicing.” Yiraŋdjil

To me that completely captures the purpose of Hope for Health. We have a birthright of vitality that was intended to underpin a life of purpose and energy and Yolngu people have been deprived of this experience. What a privilege for Hope For Health to be reawakening vitality, and to be using Yolngu traditional frameworks as our guide!

I will try my best to give you a taste of what the retreat was like.

The Retreat Menu
The food consisted largely of locally caught fish, wallaby and seafood (including stingray, oysters and crab), along with a colourful array of organic produce grown largely near Darwin and shipped to us on the barge in installments. The program included 3 days of ‘fasting’ on detox shakes, smoothies, juices and bone broth. The food was all lovingly prepared by our incredible kitchen team – headed up by the creative Zeph, with the tireless help of Michelle volunteering from Living Valley Springs and our brilliant Yolngu team of Dhamandarra, Yaŋgay, and Galana. These guys prepared food for over 40 people at each meal, working creatively and flexibly around different individual requirements and frequent program adjustments (working around community events).

Mornings began at sunrise with a beach or bush walk, followed by a vigorous cellercise class. After participants had gone through the initial detox phase, and regained some energy, the second week was filled with much spontaneous singing and dancing, which was such a joyous expression of what people were feeling.

The Team
Our support staff included 3 brilliant naturopaths. Our very own Hope for Health case manager Kate headed this up and was supported by Jessica (volunteering from Living Valley Springs) and Kirsty (volunteering from Resilient Leaders Foundation). They successfully tailored the program for each individual, monitored participants closely for safety, managed acute issues that arose and collaborated with the participants to make post-retreat treatment plans. The naturopaths were the backbone of the program.

Absolutely essential were our volunteer Osteopaths Mel and Patricia. They supported all participants chronic musculoskeletal issues, as well as dealing with the acute issues that arose as people began exercising. Most participants had not experienced anything like this modality before, and were extremely impressed. Some people had complaints resolve that had been significant issues for decades. What a privilege to give people access to a powerful and effective modality that they have never had the opportunity to experience before.

Claire and Ronnie were our wonderful volunteer massage therapists. They focused on lymphatic massage to support the detox process, as well as relaxation and their treatments were savoured by all. The therapists worked from breezy, heshan walled bush structures that overlooked the beach and expressed what a challenge it was going to be to return to their windowless clinic rooms.

Vital to the program was our Yolngu traditional treatments, delivered by the incredibly skilled Guyupul, Goŋgulu and Yethun. They prepared local herbs, grasses, clay, bark, sand, and rocks to use in various treatments. To have all these gifted practitioners exchanging their skills together in a shared space felt extremely special and healing.

Daily education workshops were conducted in the Yolngu language, by our skilled cross cultural educator Tim, which providing rich ground for building foundational knowledge, and reconnecting with traditional frameworks. This education is a central part of the Hope for Health model.

Doing a retreat for the first time in such an isolated setting certainly had its challenges! The homeland location had no phone or internet access, so communication amongst staff was challenging. We enjoyed using walkie talkies on site. It was hot and dusty (and the red dirt clogged the water filters!). We needed a car to travel daily into the Galiwin’ku township to do errands such as collecting food and managing other logistics. The dirt road was in bad shape and our vehicles suffered rapid wear and tear. In the end our 4WD and eventually our breaks collapsed, but thankfully nobody was injured. Food storage was challenging and we needed to juggled in multiple locations for this (including a cool room on a nearby homeland which unfortunately ceased to function during the retreat).

In the two weeks of the retreat we had to work around 3 different Yolngu funerals. This was hard emotionally (and a constant reminder of why we were doing this) and logistically complex. Participants had significant obligations and responsibilities to fulfill at these funerals. For some, this meant they could not attend the retreat as hoped. For others, it meant attending as a day trip with a packed lunch on various key days. This obviously tested everyone’s resolve (being surrounded by other foods and cigarettes), but we are proud of the commitment shown by the participants, and all happily returned to the retreat.

Going forward
We were thrilled with the results achieved in the two weeks, and as we collate them we are excited to share these with you. But this journey is not just about 2 weeks! Our team of Yolngu and Balanda staff are now working together to support participants on the significantly challenging journey of lifestyle change back in the real world. People have been given a life changing experience that shows them the power of nutrition, and a pathway to vitality. To see a pathway forward through the devastating health crisis that people are in the midst of, is extremely empowering.

We are now working to support participants with practical skills (such as cooking lessons and exercise classes), mental and emotional support (including family meetings and upskilling of key family members where required), overcoming systemic issues (such as access to certain foods), and navigating health systems. A health retreat is not a magic pill, but a foundational step.

People are now equipped with a lived knowledge of the cause and effect between food choices and disease. Unfortunately knowledge does not always strengthen us to always make the right choices. This is true for all of us, let alone people living in extremely complex stressful environments. So we continue to journey together through the significant ups and downs, with a shared knowledge of the vitality we were made for, and the wisdom and strength at the core of the Yolngu system.

Next Retreat
The demand on the ground is great for the ‘next retreat’ to occur, with many already signed up and we are excited to build on what we have learnt and work towards a sustainable model where we can continue to make this work accessible in Arnhem Land and beyond.

It is hard to believe that the retreat finished more than two month ago! I myself was waddling around the retreat heavily pregnant. I expected to be sharing this news much sooner, but we only just made it to Darwin in time for our precious little bundle to burst into the world somewhat earlier than expected. All is well.

We want to send the deepest gratitude to all for your love and support on this great journey,

Kama Trudgen, Co- founder Hope for Health,
And the brilliant team bringing this vision to life

Here’s a quick video to give you more of an idea!

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