The Issues

Compared with non-Aboriginal people, Aboriginal people have significantly poorer health across the whole life-cycle.   The difference in the quality of health has been most clearly defined by the 19 year age gap in the life expectancy of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Australia.

The Indigenous population is much younger overall than the non-Indigenous population. Currently about one-third of Indigenous people are aged less than 15 years, compared with one-fifth of non-Indigenous people.

In Aboriginal children the prevalence of Otitis Media (OM) (leading to deafness) and Trachoma (increasing the risk of blindness) is worryingly high.  Indigenous people are three times more likely to suffer from OM than non-Indigenous people. Ear diseases are associated with people being in crowded homes, living in poor conditions or having poor hygiene. One in 3 Aboriginal people have diabetes often due to fast food and poor diet.

This means that children are our first concern and target, and that the work with and for aboriginal children is crucial and has a massive impact on future generations.

The solution: our Five Big Ideas Program for preschools

By teaching little ones about personal hygiene, basic health care and simple nutrition significant improvements to primary health care can be created, therefore reducing longer term chronic health problems and ultimately reducing the difference in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

The Big Ideas Program starts young (3-5 years) with simple techniques and information, delivered in an interesting and culturally appropriate way.

By wrapping highly sensitive, long standing and deeply emotional topics in creative mediums, encased in a localised Aboriginal culture, this program will not only educate but also heal.

It is formed by the preschools themselves together with specialists we have in Gunawirra to create these programs. The program is designed as a seminal, holistic and culturally embedded model of excellence.

Training program for preschools

It is a fun, interactive program, incorporating audio visual, art, stories, puppets and games for children to play. The program is broken into 5 Modules that can be used in the classroom as 20 minute to 30 minute lessons. These modules are:

1.  My Health & Hygiene

2. Healing & Resilience

3. My Land, Our Environment

4. My Culture, My Identity

5. Nutrition

Each of these Modules has five one hour sessions so that is 25 sessions in all.

Each Module will incorporate a session with 2 minutes video from our Gunawirra puppets talking about nutrition, health, trauma, identity and environment that can also be downloaded on to the parent’s mobile or Ipad with discussion.

Our Aboriginal artist who is also a graduate in Eora for Aboriginal culture will help the children with dreamtime stories around the five Big Ideas we will have the children do art pertaining to each idea.

There will be Reggio Amelia sessions with strong emphasis on the use of songs and dancing with Aboriginal context around the issues of Healthy ears, cleaning up yourself, respecting your body, nutrition and all the others.  The need to cook fresh tucker at home, the care of the garden each centre either has or will have that Gunawirra has helped them create in the last three years. Breakfast and fresh fruit lunches where needed will be part of the nutrition program.

The project on trauma will include protecting one’s self. Why mums and dads have problems? Alcohol and drugs can cause problems when used to excess. Talking with someone you can trust like a teacher. Respecting one’s body. “My body is my body; Your Body is your Body program”. (Child sexual abuse is rife in Aboriginal communities.)

A Health Pack with washer, soap, antiseptic cream, tooth paste and tooth brush, underwear socks and singlets. We are aiming for 1000 packs. St George employees have already reached about 500 packs so far. The staff also raised an enormous $30,000 in their Christmas Appeal towards this project.

Key Outcomes

  • Children learning self-respect and empowerment through improved life skills
  • Improvements in emotional health and self confidence
  • Marked improvements in relationships with peers, family, teachers and community
  • Renewing parents’ interest and commitment to their children’s education through parental involvement
  • Across the board reduction in Indigenous trauma and abuse

Research and Evaluation

We undertake qualitative research using questionnaires for teachers and parents on changes seen in children’s behaviour before and after the program. Teachers at the preschool evaluate the program on a weekly basis and on completion engage in “informal” interviews with the mothers of the children.

These include a questionnaire to specialists – preschool teachers, nutritionists, social workers, a graduate Aboriginal culture specialist, and child puppeteers. Each person reports to Gunawirra and the preschool teachers so that we can modify the program where needed and identify improvements against our projected outcomes. A research specialist then analyses and presents the findings.

We have also commissioned Professor Jane Usher from the Health Research Unit of the University of Western Sydney to formally review the program’s effectiveness.

This will be ethically approved and academically validated and provide a rigorous and in depth evaluation of the program and enable continuous improvements to be made.

For further information about the programs or to make a referral, please contact us .

Download Gunawirra’s Five Big Ideas Booklet (PDF)