A small group of Indigenous students has embarked on an innovative Queensland course aimed at combating the devastating rates of Indigenous suicide. Dianne Jensen reports.
Like all new students, the 2015 intake at Wontulp-Bi-Buya College in Cairns turned up to the first day of class with a mix of excitement and trepidation. The 35 students enrolled for the Certificate IV Indigenous Mental Health (Suicide Prevention) have come from across Australia to undertake the 12-month course which is breaking new ground in equipping Indigenous people for community-based mental health management.
Now in its second year, the Certificate IV is funded for two years by the federal Department of Health and coordinated by Rev Leslie Baird. Wontulp-Bi-Buya offers a range of nationally accredited courses in theology, ministry and community development and is supported by the Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran and Uniting Churches in Queensland.
College principal Rev Victor Joseph says the course is designed to facilitate grassroots action in consultation with community members, traditional owners, elders and government agencies.
“It enables students to develop a community-wide strategy for early identification and prevention of suicide,” says Victor. “We are not saying anything negative about the professional services that come into the communities for a couple of days and then fly out, but we’ve got to give the community the tools to face this.”
The core units reflect the holistic approach to ministry at the heart of Wontulp-Bi-Buya, exploring the role of spirituality in bringing hope and healing as well as providing professional skills in mental health management in an Indigenous cultural context.
“For far too long our Indigenous people have been hurt and their spirituality has been suppressed or damaged, and we need to get that right,” says Victor. “Sure the government can pour thousands of dollars into programs, but if you can’t address the spirituality of an Indigenous person then that will always be missing.”
Students are encouraged by the participatory teaching model to share their own journeys.
“The students teach themselves because they come to study with their own life skills and experiences and this becomes a learning tool for others. They may have been in a situation where they have contemplated [suicide] or a family member has gone through this, so they are trying to make that positive change within themselves.”
Several 2014 graduates already have found employment, and with federal funding running out in June, Wontulp-Bi-Buya is urgently seeking financial support to continue the program in 2016.
For more information visit wontulp.qld.edu.au