Wanatjura Lewis worked on the Uti Kulintjaku program and app. (Supplied: NPY Women’s Council)
On a warm Alice Springs morning, Wanatjura Lewis closes her eyes, puts in some headphones and gets ready to relax and meditate.
- Women from the NPY Women’s Council collaborated with the team behind Smiling Mind to create the app
- It combines the skills of traditional healers with interpreters and western mental health professionals to improve wellbeing
- The app is being trialled in remote Central Australian schools
She is listening to an ancient language that is being put to a very modern use.
Teaming up with the producers behind mindfulness app Smiling Mind, women from Central Australia’s NPY Women’s Council have helped create recorded meditations in Kriol, Ngaanyatjarra and Pitjantjiatjara languages.
The aim is to help combat mental health and trauma issues in Aboriginal communities, particularly among young people.
“This is for them, our families, to learn about all of these things that will help them look after themselves and keep them healthy in body and mind,” the council’s Nyumiti Burton said through an interpreter.
“We made this for our children, so their thinking could become clearer.”
The meditations have already been downloaded thousands of times and are also being trialled in schools across the APY lands in remote South Australia.
Mixing the new with the old
The app features singing, meditation and breathing exercises.
It’s the latest project created through the council’s Uti Kulintjaku wellbeing and mental health program — the title translates to “to think and understand clearly”.
Rene Kulitja listens to meditations she helped create, available in Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjiatjara and Kriol. (Supplied: NPY Women’s Council)
It combines the skills of ngangkari, or traditional healers, with interpreters and western mental health professionals to improve mental health literacy and wellbeing.
“We realised that we didn’t know any of the ways that western medicine thinks about a lot of things,” Ms Burton said.
“We were working with doctors who started to explain terms like mental health, and they talked to us about trauma, and we had no understanding of that in the way that they did.”
Ms Burton said the program has helped develop her understanding of those concepts and allowed her to share them with others when they are dealing with conflict or stress.
“Now I say to [family members] ‘I think maybe you’re getting upset about something that’s in the past, it happened ages ago and there’s different ways to deal with it’,” she said.
“I explain some of the things I understand now to them and it seems to help people think about things in a different way.”
Bringing traditional healing to millions
Fellow NPY council member Rene Kulitja from Mutitjulu said transferring the physical healing process into a compact app was not as difficult as it might seem.
“We know a lot about how to deal with things when they might seem hard,” Ms Kulitja said.
The Smiling Mind user base numbers around three million people.
Chief executive Addie Wootten said the collaboration with the NPY Women’s Council had been smooth and inspiring.
“I was really excited to work with the ngangkari, the women in the program, to really try and understand how mindfulness could be translated into their language in a culturally appropriate way,” said Dr Wootten.
She said the company had been contacted by other communities wanting to do something similar.