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Getting the best outcomes for Maningrida
Maningrida’s Ben “Baru” Pascoe has many roles; he is a talented musician, an Elder of the Mardarrpa clan, a Djunggay (caretaker of his mother’s song lines and totems) and a grandfather.
And if that’s not enough, Baru is also Maningrida’s Indigenous Engagement Officer (IEO). IEOs are employed by the Australian Government to be the bridge between their community and Government and Baru works to ensure Maningrida, in Northern Arnhem Land, receives the full benefit of the Government’s programmes.
“Based on my experiences in working in education, community safety and health, I knew that being an IEO would allow me to help my countrymen to close the gap, get kids to school and help people get real jobs,” Baru said.
Baru has also found that his extensive knowledge of Mardarrpa culture is an important asset for his community.
“I teach Balanda (non-Indigenous people) about Maningrida, its clans, culture, language, skin names, totems and ceremonies, so programmes are designed and delivered in culturally appropriate ways,” Baru said.
In return, Baru says he has learnt about the workings of bureaucracy and increased his computer skills from non-Indigenous Government staff and sees his work with Balanda as crucial to the future of Maningrida.
“Together we form a bridge between community and Government, engaging with both worlds. We have a much better chance of closing the gap when we work together and share and learn from each other’s experiences and skills,” Baru said.
Baru wants Maningrida to become more self-sufficient by helping locals gain the skills they need to do the jobs Balanda currently do in the community.
“We had a Child and Family Centre built here recently, with locals hired as builders. This not only meant jobs in the community but gave us a sense of ownership,” Baru said.
“The centre can teach mothers to raise healthy kids and we can feel confident doing this using traditional ways as well, like using natural resources such as bush tucker and marine foods. We know we are starting to make a difference doing this; for example, we have many less kids medi-vacced out these days. It seemed like kids were being medi-vacced out almost every day or night but now it’s maybe only 15-20 times a year.”