Spot­ted In

So­cial change ad­vo­cate in Mel­bourne

Paradise - - Contents -

Noth­ing in life is a sil­ver bul­let, but ed­u­ca­tion is a strong foun­da­tion and en­ables suc­cess. That’s the phi­los­o­phy be­hind the Mind Gar­den Projects, started by Ben­son and Kate Saulo.

Ben­son, 29, is a de­scen­dent of the Wemba Wemba and Gun­ditj­mara Abo­rig­i­nal na­tions of west­ern Vic­to­ria and the New Ire­land Prov­ince of Pa­pua New Guinea.

Ris­ing from a ca­reer start as a bank teller with the ANZ in the NSW town of Tam­worth, Aus­tralia, Ben­son went on to be­come a busi­ness an­a­lyst in the in­dige­nous em­ploy­ment and train­ing team at ANZ.

Last year he joined Aus­tralian Unity, a health­care, fi­nan­cial ser­vices and in­de­pen­dent and as­sisted liv­ing or­gan­i­sa­tion. The op­por­tu­nity to de­velop and im­ple­ment strate­gies to bet­ter en­gage with in­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties was an in­cen­tive for him to join the com­pany.

“My role (head of com­mu­nity strat­egy) is to pro­mote re­spect­ful re­la­tion­ships and op­por­tu­ni­ties with in­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties, cus­tomers and busi­ness through our work­force, prod­ucts and ser­vices and our own em­ploy­ees’ cul­tural aware­ness,” he says.

“I am pas­sion­ate about the pos­i­tive role that large com­pa­nies, like Aus­tralian Unity, can play in pro­mot­ing eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment, com­mu­nity lead­er­ship and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion be­tween our First Na­tions peo­ple and other Aus­tralians.” His role with Aus­tralian Unity fol­lows an im­pres­sive list of ac­com­plish­ments as a youth ad­vo­cate and com­mu­nity leader, in­clud­ing be­ing the first in­dige­nous Aus­tralian to be ap­pointed the Aus­tralian youth rep­re­sen­ta­tive at the United Na­tions in 2011. This unique po­si­tion and ex­pe­ri­ence led him to be­come the found­ing di­rec­tor of the Na­tional In­dige­nous Youth Lead­er­ship Academy to strengthen in­dige­nous young peo­ples’ voices on is­sues im­pact­ing them, in­clud­ing men­tal health, cli­mate change and sui­cide preven­tion.

Ben­son’s fa­ther and mother met at Bi­ble Col­lege in Coota­mundra in NSW. Their com­mit­ment to the min­istry led them from Bris­bane to Tam­worth.

“In 2016, they ful­filled their long-term plan of re­turn­ing to my fa­ther’s home at Lafu vil­lage on the west coast of New Ire­land.”

Mind Gar­den Projects came to life fol­low­ing a visit to his fam­ily on New Ire­land.

“Dur­ing our trip, we vis­ited a cou­ple of schools and had the op­por­tu­nity to fa­cil­i­tate some work­shops with stu­dents and teach­ers. The schools were Us­sil Pri­mary, which is near Lafu, and Neikon­i­mon Com­mu­nity School.” In both schools, there was a short­age of books.

“Kate – a doc­tor in clin­i­cal and foren­sic psy­chol­ogy – has been really blessed with the op­por­tu­nity of ed­u­ca­tion, as have I, and see­ing the lack of school and teacher re­sources, de­cided that as part of our re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to our fam­ily, we needed to do some­thing.

“We really wanted to sup­port stu­dents to in­crease their nu­mer­acy and lit­er­acy skills, and sup­port teach­ers to de­liver qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion.”

So back home in Mel­bourne, they es­tab­lished a crowd-fund­ing cam­paign to buy books and sta­tionery. The cam­paign raised $AUD3500.

“We also had a book drive and had won­der­ful sup­port­ers here in Mel­bourne who do­nated school books – read­ers for years one up to teen nov­els.”

Mind Gar­den Projects has since pro­vided over 1000 books to four schools.

“My hope for Pa­pua New Guinea is that young peo­ple can gain a qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion and take that op­por­tu­nity to have a pos­i­tive im­pact on the na­tion in pol­i­tics, busi­ness and com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment.”

My hope for Pa­pua New Guinea is that young peo­ple can gain a qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion and have a pos­i­tive im­pact in pol­i­tics, busi­ness and com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment.

Like minds … Ben­son and Kate Saulo started the Mind Gar­den Project to en­hance ed­u­ca­tion in PNG.

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