Domestic aid efforts by Caritas Australia have supported indigenous communities in developing themselves on their own terms for the past 40 years, the group leader of the First Australians program has said.
Mark Green, who heads the Caritas Australian indigenous program, which recently changed its name to the First Australians program, told The Record the initiative was with the communities rather than Caritas as a welfare organisation.
The program changed its name this month on the anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Alice Springs in 1986.
Mr Green said by changing the name they hoped to change the way people think about Australia’s indigenous population.
“It’s a way of articulating the place that our Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders have in Caritas’ heart and mind and the Church’s heart and mind,” he said.
About $1.5 million from Caritas Australia’s $29 million program was spent on domestic aid this financial year.
Mr Green said the money was invested in programs based mainly in Western Australia, the Northern Territory and northern New South Wales, and was aimed at indigenous people in regional and metropolitan areas.
“The focus of the program is to accompany and support Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders who are seeking to develop themselves and improve their lives on the terms they set,” he said.
“They are involved in the design of the program, in what they want to do and how they see things and have a great deal of say in what the program is.”
“The domestic program operates on the same basis as the international program – respect for the people you’re working with, respect for the way they want to develop themselves and the implementation with partners who are close to the community you are trying to reach.”
The First Australians program works with a number of indigenous organisations around Australia including Red Dust Healing, which empowers people who have experienced rejection.
Mr Green said the Red Dust Healing was an important cultural healing project because it supported people who have difficultly overcoming rejection in their lives.
He said other projects included a new Jesuit school in Redfern, Sydney that provided educational opportunities to Aboriginal students who would not benefit from mainstream school and working with the national stolen generation alliance.
Mr Green said there were a lot of stereotypes about indigenous Australians but they are based on a lack of experience and there are a lot of Australians who have never had the pleasure of getting to know Aboriginal and Torrest Strait Islander communities.