A Volunteer’s week in paradise: NE Arnhem Land

Red, green, blue; the colours were vivid and raw creating a sense of magic and wonder.

NE Arnhem kids - volunteer experienceA part of me felt like I was in another country or world and I had to remind myself, this is my beautiful country.  Whether it was hot and humid or bucketing down with rain, Mother Nature whispered loudly, tempting you to run barefoot, dance in the rain or dip your toes in the ocean.

The beautiful ocean: so calm, clear and inviting.  How can something so pure and tranquil host the deadliest of predators?  It is a mean trick.  Perhaps I developed an irrational fear of crocodiles but everyone was quick to share their ‘croc story’.  I did not want my own.

When asked if I could be adopted, my natural reaction was ‘no’.  Then these teenage girls explained we could be sisters, I quickly understood and consented.  The children were very open and friendly, running up to meet us.  As soon as you pull out a camera, you hear ‘take picture me’, and you look up to see a group of kids posing like the latest One Direction poster.  Asking to see and feel my long hair was of upmost importance to only find them looking for nits.  Little boys playing with sticks as though they were hunting with spears, was such a delight to watch.

In a few short days of observation (as a volunteer physio), I found the men to be open and conversational and the women, quiet and reserved.  The men could be found busy with outdoor work, while the women under the shade of a tree.  As a physio, I found the men were prone to tight calf muscles and the women sore backs.  Sitting on the ground with legs crossed was the posture of choice, whether it’s chatting, searching for nits, painting or trying to stay cool.  Encouraging the locals to get up, move and stretch could pose a difficult task, given the impenetrable heat.

It was a gift to meet and massage a few of the elders in the homeland communities in NE Arnhem Land.  Speaking with an older lady, I asked “do you like living here and why?”  She replied, “yes, I have my family around and my freedom”.  What a life lesson!  Homes consisted of corrugated iron, concrete, running water and electricity.  They had no toilet and shower, refrigeration or kitchens in their homes.  When hunger strikes, there’s no frozen pizza’s, just fishing and hunting to satisfy those hunger pangs.  While life may seem tough to outsiders, no complaints were heard from these resilient people.

What I found most intriguing was the strength observed in the women in these communities.  On the first day, I was a little surprised when a 12-year-old girl asked for an Implanon.  After I spoke with the nurse, I was reassured that all girls receive one when they turn 12.  This made sense and seemed to be a sensible solution to prevent teenage pregnancies and encourage girls to finish school.  Another lady and I discovered we were the same age and both without children.  Later, the nurse told me she was the third wife and even though her husband wants her to have children, she refuses to.  On Bremer Island, another one of the elders told me that she moved with her husband to live on the Island as he had a drinking problem and needed to be removed from accessing alcohol.  These stories were inspiring and showed me the strength these women possess.

Not only were the local indigenous people beautiful but also the Laynha Health staff were incredibly nice to work with.  I spent a week with one of the nurses, Sandy, who was so gracious in making my trip memorable.  She not only fed me amazing food all week but also patiently answered all my questions and ensured I had a good time.  It was an amazing opportunity to watch her in action.  She showed so much love and respect to the local people and genuinely cared for their wellbeing.  It is these deep relationships that are crucial in addressing the needs of these communities.  I felt so honoured to watch her at work and see how a mutually respected relationship is achieved.

With reluctance I go back to the city and I will miss the countryside, the beautiful people and cultural experiences.

Delena Caagbay, Physiotherapist, Sanctuary Sanitarium

Volunteer Physiotherapist with SOS Health Foundation

Comments are closed.