My life was changed in April this year, after spending 10 days in a remote indigenous community as part of the St Vincent De Paul society’s annual Immersion program to Nganmarriyanga, about 400km west of Darwin.
We took a light aircraft to the small airstrip, which serves as the community’s airport. During the wet season, the roads are too flooded for cars to pass. As the school principal picked us up from the airstrip and transported through the community for the first time in the red dusty school bus, we could see and hear children waving and shouting out “Vinnies!”. It was a strange but wholesome feeling that these people were so excited to see us, even though they haven’t met us yet. That is a testament to how the community accepted us into their lives for the duration of our immersion. This experience alone helped me understand the true meaning of “community”. Where I come from in Canberra, you’re lucky if someone looks up at you on the street, let alone smiles at you. In Nganmarriyanga, you’re greeted with such excitement by people you don’t know.
I’ve gained so much that I cannot begin to explain. I learned how to live simply, and without the negative impacts and pressures of today’s western society.
I have changed so much, become much happier. Lived without my phone, television and the internet. My nightly routine involved dodging cane toads on the way back to my accommodation, instead of scrolling through Facebook. My eight Vinnies friends and I were welcomed into the community by the elders and children of the community with big smiles and open arms. For 10 days, my life was completely different.
We often talk about how we can help and change people through our good works, although we often neglect to talk about how our work changes us. We are impacted by the people we meet, the places we visit and the experiences we have. There is a lesson to be learned about letting our experiences change us and to be open to change. We often resist change but being adaptable and open-minded allows us to learn, grow, and share the new experience with those we work with.
My views and opinions of indigenous Australians have changed. I no longer stand by as someone makes an insensitive remark. Instead, I will stand up and use my experience to educate people about the complexities of the indigenous culture in remote communities.
People often throw around the phrase “life-changing experience”. For me, it truly was. I think about the community and the people every day and reflect on how to share what I’ve learned and used the skills of simplicity in my busy day to day life. I am already counting down the days until the applications open for next year. I highly recommend this program to everyone and anyone.
Amy has been a volunteer with the Youth Programs since 2016, attending camps and weekend activities to support young people who are in a caring role, and/or from vulnerable backgrounds.