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Health, Culture and Community – GEGAC Builds Partnership with Girls at the Centre

GEGAC Healthy Lifestyles Workers Tamasin Rankin and Rhiannon Hayes with students in the Girls at the Centre program at Bairnsdale Secondary College.

GEGAC is continuing to expand its connections with young people in community, beginning a new series of health and cultural yarns with Aboriginal students in the Girls at the Centre program at Bairnsdale Secondary College.

Girls at the Centre is a program that motivates and supports Aboriginal girls in years 7 to 12 to do well in school and plan for a healthy and successful future.

According to Girls at the Centre Program Manager Simone Foster, maintaining strong connections to Aboriginal culture is an important part of that healthy and successful future for many of her students.

“Some of our students are fortunate to have had a good cultural education growing up,” she says. “But I think others are still searching for their identity, to understand their own connections to culture and community.”

“That can get lost over the years, particularly with the passing of Elders and family members. That cultural education is not something that is offered in schools, so it’s really important that we’re able to provide that here.”

GEGAC is proud to be able to contribute to that cultural education.

Early this year Sarah Baxter and Alana Solomon, part of GEGAC’s Cultural Team, visited with the Girls at the Centre to talk about GEGAC’s developing Cultural Framework – the initiatives we are bringing in to ingrain Aboriginal culture in everything we do across all of our services.

“Sarah and Alana also spoke about the apprenticeship and employment opportunities available at GEGAC,” Simone said. “It always great when we can provide the girls with some vision of what their future could look like, to have something to aim at, career-wise. The more the girls know what opportunities are out there for them in the community, the better.”

A team of GEGAC medical and healthy lifestyles staff also visited Girls at the Centre recently, to provide 715 Health Checks and to yarn with the girls about their health questions or concerns.

GP Dr Stacey Smith, GEGAC Practice Nurse Lisa Hodge, and Healthy Lifestyles Workers Rhiannon Hayes and Tamasin Rankin did 715 Health Checks for 18 students, and had yarns with many more about how to look after their health and wellbeing.

Maddi Stephenson, a Girls Coach at Girls at the Centre, said the visit was one of very few opportunities the girls had to ask questions of health care professionals in a setting that was culturally safe and comfortable for them.

“They asked about things like vaping and smoking, sexual health, getting enough sleep – the usual things you’d expect from teenagers,” she said. “But they also wanted to talk about diet and nutrition. Unfortunately, a lot of these girls aren’t getting a stable diet, and that can lead to other problems.”

Girls Coach Chloe Kenny said that mental health was a big issue for students and young people, for which there just wasn’t enough support.

“Absolutely, mental health is something the girls talk about a lot, and we can see it is an increasing problem for young people,” she said. “There really aren’t enough services for young people to get mental health support or education, particularly in country areas, and so we’re doing everything we can to have those yarns with the girls.”

GEGAC is excited to continue this terrific relationship with the Girls at the Centre.

Some ideas that have been floated include cooking sessions with Elders, learning basketweaving and other Aboriginal crafts, a Healthy Lifestyles program with Tamasin and Rhiannon, perhaps reading for the Boorai at Dala Yooro, and on-country excursions and cultural lessons.

The Girls at the Centre program is always keen to make new connections with organisations and businesses in the community.

If you want to reach out to them, contact program manager Simone Foster at Simone.foster@thesmithfamily.com.au