In early 2009, the Mt Theo Program launched Warra-Warra Kanyi, a community-based counselling and mentoring project. Warra-Warra Kanyi grew out of the mentoring element of Jaru Pirrjirdi, through which the Yuendumu community demonstrated the strong need for a Warlpiri-specific counselling and mentoring service. With the generous support of the Personal Helpers and Mentors initiative within the Mental Health branch of FaHCSIA, Warra-Warra Kanyi (WWK) was born, and over the past eighteen months has gone from strength to strength.

In the Warlpiri language, Warra-Warra Kanyi translates to mean ‘caring for people’. It describes the kind of care that is appropriate for young Warlpiri people; that is, watching over them quietly, ‘worrying’ for them, supporting them, and being there to help them when they encounter difficulty. It describes the kind of respectful, supportive care young people give each other through the mentoring process, as well as the approach taken by community elders, family members and staff members within this project.

The team continues to be comprised of Jean Napanangka Brown (Senior Cultural Advisor), Sherman Jungarrayi Spencer (Male Youth Mentor) and Ruth Bignell (Counsellor/Team Leader). In addition we are pleased to welcome Danielle Nangala Egan to the team – Danielle assumed the role of Female Youth Mentor in May 2010, and we are extremely proud and happy to have her on the team. Danielle replaces Gina Spencer who after many months hard work, has moved across to work with Warlpiri Rangers in land management. In addition to these key Warra-Warra Kanyi staff members, young people at risk are supported by a pool of Jaru Pirrjirdi mentors who are continually supported and developed in this mentoring role.

Between July 2009 and June 2010, the Warra-Warra Kanyi team worked with 75 at-risk young Warlpiri people, with issues ranging from cannabis and alcohol misuse, depression, grief, relationship issues and family breakdown, right through to serious suicidal ideation and behaviour. Indeed, one of the main aims of Warra-Warra Kanyi is to reduce the rate of suicidal behaviour and attempts in Yuendumu, and we are pleased to report an indicative reduction in these statistics in 2009-10, compared to only a few short years ago. Significant acknowledgement for this lowered statistic must go to Sherman Jungarrayi Spencer, Warra-Warra Kanyi Male Youth Mentor, and tireless campaigner for the issue of male youth suicide in Yuendumu over several years.

There has been so much hard work, and so many great outcomes, in our project work and resource development this year that it is difficult to choose highlights! For several months in late 2009 and ongoing into 2010, the Warra-Warra Kanyi team worked closely with other local agencies and community members to design and implement a strategy for tackling the problem of increased cannabis misuse among young people in Yuendumu. This collaboration was a real grass-roots success – outcomes included the referral of several young clients to the Mt Theo Outstation for cultural rehabilitation; the production of anti-cannabis signs at Jaru Pirrjirdi Night Club; and considerable community education and discussion around the mental health and other risks associated with heavy cannabis use.

In February 2010, Jean Napanangka Brown (WWK Senior Cultural Advisor) completed work on her beautiful painting, Warra-Warra Kanyi. This work captures the Warra-Warra Kanyi way of working, and serves as an important tool both for establishing our core values to our team and committee, and for promoting the service to the Warlpiri community. Later in the year, Jaru Pirrjirdi mentors Sebastian Watson and Delvene Langdon also produced a painting, dealing with the effects and relationship between alcohol and violence in families.

In March 2010, Sherman Jungarrayi Spencer attended the launch in Alice Springs of Suicide Story, a suicide intervention training resource developed by the Mental Health Association of Central Australia specifically for people form remote central Australian communities. There, in front of the Alice Springs mental health community, Sherman received an award thanking him for his major contribution to the resource. Well done Sherman!

As this report goes to press, the Warra-Warra Kanyi team continues to work tirelessly towards bettering the situations for young Walrpiri people in Yuendumu; Jean is involved in a perinatal mental health collaboration with Central Australian Mental Health Service, Ruth and Jaru Pirrjirdi Mentors Sebastian and MG are putting the finishing touches on a project celebrating strong Warlpiri family men, and we are all about to embark upon a week-long trip to Mt Theo Outstation where we will experience the training resource, Suicide Story, that Sherman helped to create. We look forward to the challenges of the next year, and to continuing to work with the young people and community of Yuendumu.

The Warra-Warra Kanyi model

Over the past twelve months, the Warra-Warra Kanyi model has developed and expanded to respond to the ongoing needs of the community. Our work is based upon six primary elements:

Prevention and Education Work

This element involves providing information and education around mental health, substance misuse and other risk issues in an appropriate way to Warlpiri families, young people and the community.

Early Intervention

We aim to identify and respond to issues that face young people before they become serious crises. Camping trips, mens and womens hunting and cultural activities, and community-wide initiatives (for example, dealing with cannabis misuse in the community) all form part of this element.

Family and Community Engagement

As demonstrated in Jean’s painting, a fundamental and guiding principle of Warra-Warra Kanyi is our involvement of a young person’s family and the wider Warlpiri community in their recovery. In doing so we aim value and develop the rich knowledge and experience that Warlpiri families have in caring for their young people.

Resource Development and Projects

The development of Warlpiri paintings, Warlpiri-specific therapeutic tools, interagency projects and collaborations all come together to form this important element of Warra-Warra Kanyi. Some of them are described above!

Individual Community-Based Counselling and Mentoring

Community-based counselling and peer mentoring support for young people and their families whose issues can’t be resolved through early intervention/prevention activities.

Re-engagement with Jaru Pirrjirdi

The ultimate goal of Warra-Warra Kanyi! The involvement of our young Walrpiri clients with Jaru Pirrjirdi and the positive life pathways it offers young people is the best way to foster a positive and effective recovery.

“This painting shows the way we work with young people inside our Warra-Warra Kanyi project. In the centre of the painting you will see a young fella. He gets into trouble, the kind of trouble you see in the bottom left hand side of the painting – the trouble might be grog, gunja, fighting or worrying too much and these things make him sick in his heart. He is milyapinja-wangu – he’s forgetting everything he knows, and the right way to act, poor thing. The other circles show the way we might work with him. There is a circle showing Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal workers sitting together with that young person and helping him. There is a circle showing him surrounded by his community, who are gathering round him and supporting him. And there is a circle showing the young man getting stronger and sitting with his family. In this way, he will get his memory and his strength back again. Yuwayi.” Jean Napanangka Brown, February 2010

Warra-Warra Kanyi Counselling and Mentoring Service is funded by the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services & Indigenous Affairs,  Mental Health Branch, Personal Helpers and Mentors – Remote Servicing.