Social change advocate in Melbourne
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.