Psychologist; ANZ ACBS Board of Directors
Managing Director – Company Founder
Gamarada Universal Indigenous Resources Pty Ltd (GUIR)
For sometime I have been following, via social media, the community work Ken has been doing with his team at Gamarada in Sydney. Recently I had the opportunity to chat with Ken about this work along with other projects he is involved with. So, I invite you to take a few minutes and read about this important and interesting community work….enjoy!
Ken is a graduate of the Djurawang Batchelor degree in Health Sciences (Mental Health) at Charles Sturt University. Ken has recently been awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Health Sciences from University of Sydney.
The day we spoke Ken shared that he had just received a call from The University of Sydney offering him the award of Honorary Doctorate (Doctor of Health Sciences) in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the health industry and for his exceptional commitment of service to the public life of the indigenous community and more broadly. Ken founded Gamarada back in 2007 and the organisation has gone from strength to strength over the years. I was keen to know how this all began…a big question I know, so I asked Ken to share how the community work at Gamarada had developed and this is a great post to read for anyone interested in a rejuvenation and spa day.
After been headhunted by the Aboriginal Medical Service mental health team in Redfern in 2004, Ken began running a social-emotional wellbeing group once a week for a couple of hours. From this group, the Gamarada Healing and Leadership Program began to develop and expanded beyond Ken’s 9-5 job, and then around 2007 Ken decide to commit to this community work.
Ken explained that from an innate indigenous perspective, community is a fundamental part of the health solution including common mental health challenges, social-emotional well being and general wellness maintenance. When Ken attended Charles Sturt University key, Aboriginal documents spoke to embedding solutions in community, which was very different to how many mainstream services were set up. This further reinforced the perspective that the community work was vital. Ken also explained that this innate community orientated perspective is why Aboriginal people have said they need to develop these services and solutions themselves with the mainstream systems as a partner.
Our conversation touched on Ken’s personal experiences with family dislocation, poverty and trauma and he spoke of how the work at Gamarada very much helps him keep one foot planted in the community where his ability to reach vulnerable groups is most effective. The other foot is across spaces like ACBS, where Ken has experienced a two way learning with other therapists and organisations regarding the how and why we need to work together. An example of this is ANZ ACBS member Carolyn Minchin who has been involved with Gamarada since the ABCS World Con in Sydney 2013 and has helped design the Gamarada Coaching model.
I was keen to know more about the recent youth award Gamarada had received in relation to the DBT coaching project that they deliver. Ken shared how the Primary Health Networks and other funders are interested in the model and are offering to fund projects that demonstrate his key design principles. An example of this is the pilot youth, parents and carers model which incorporated four community hubs for community embedded program delivery.
Our conversation came full circle back to the Gamarada DBT skills coaching and its effectiveness in providing the culturally safe framework often necessary for the delivery of clinical tools. Ken spoke passionately about incorporating Indigenous Wisdom Traditions such as ‘Dadirri’, which is similar to mindfulness, meaning inner, deep listening and quiet, still awareness. When Ken first began working in Mental Health spaces he remembers the disconnect between the language and culture of mainstream mental health systems, particularly the speak of mindfulness (Zen Buddhism), in the absence of Indigenous Wisdom Traditions (Dadirri). This continues today however the disconnect is improving.
NSW Premier’s Excellence Award 2018, Leadership in Aboriginal Communities
Youth Action Youth Work Awards 2018 – Outstanding Work with Aboriginal Young People
ZEST Awards 2019: Outstanding Voluntary Group, Gamarada Leadership Group in Recognition of Outstanding Contribution in Western Sydney
The University of Sydney Award of Honorary Doctorate (Doctor of Health Sciences) in recognition of outstanding contribution to the health industry and for exceptional commitment of service to the public life of the indigenous community and more broadly.
So what’s in the future…
Ken plans to expand his community work, particularly the collaborative projects across mental health, health, education, justice and employment. On a personal note, Ken is contemplating a position such as Social Justice Commissioner or Minister for Mental Health in order to effect large systemic change.