Celebrating ‘her’ this NAIDOC Week

‘Because of her, we can’: what a powerful theme for NAIDOC Week this year.

NAIDOC Week is an annual celebration across Australia that honours the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The celebrations that occur during NAIDOC Week are a way for the entire Australian community to see the rich culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as we work together toward reconciliation.

The NAIDOC Week official website says this year’s theme is to celebrate the “essential role that women have played – and continue to play – as active and significant role models at the community, local, state and national levels”.

When it comes to strong Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, I feel privileged to know Annissa. Annissa is a member of the Samaritans Reconciliation Action Committee which is currently finalising the organisation’s Reconciliation Action Plan. I’m very excited to see the actions in this plan come to fruition as Samaritans becomes a more vocal supporter of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and achieving true reconciliation.

Annissa’s story was recently featured in the Diocese of Newcastle’s magazine, the Anglican Encounter. I’d like to thank Annissa for allowing us to share her story again here.

                                                                                                             

Annissa is a fierce advocate for social change. She’s a feminist, a survivor of domestic violence and a champion of people who are escaping family violence, who have experienced homelessness or adversity in their life. She is a proud Murrawarri descendant from remote NSW, Goodooga, who is transforming the lives of young people through her work in Samaritans Specialist Youth Homelessness Services on the land of the Awabakal people.

Annissa is a connector and sees her work as an opportunity to support people throughout life’s challenges by reducing their isolation so that they feel as though they belong. She’s making a significant impact in the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people who she has been able to offer connection to country, culture and community.

Annissa’s journey to supporting people in need has been inspired by her own experiences of vulnerability.

“I grew up in Armidale and faced my own battles with drug and alcohol addiction. I left school in year nine and found myself isolated from my family – I hit rock bottom. I was a victim of domestic violence and as a single mum of three boys, knew that I needed to move to a new place to make a better life for us all,” Annissa said.

Newcastle and the Awabakal tribe became a home for Annissa where she found casual work through the Awabakal Childcare Centre and began building new connections to the local community.

“It was when I started my role at Warlga Ngurra Women and Children’s Refuge that I knew I had a bigger purpose in life. With guidance from colleagues, mentors and support services, I completed my Certificate III in Community Services at TAFE and I have never looked back,” she said.

Annissa has now lived in Newcastle for 14 years, raising her children and making an important difference in the youth sector in which she works.

Annissa is based at Samaritans Transitional Accommodation for people under the age of 25 and in addition to her work at the service, currently supports 20 young people who she has assisted to find stable accommodation, pursue education and employment opportunities, as well as stability for their families.

“I feel as though I have flourished here. Newcastle has provided great opportunities for my boys and I love going to work each day,” Annissa said.

Annissa’s work and experience in the sector has been recognised with her membership to various committees, internal and external to her work at Samaritans. She contributes to the Samaritans Reconciliation Action Committee, Samaritans Domestic and Family Violence Prevention and Awareness Committee, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Family and Domestic Violence Committee, the Hunter Homeless Aboriginal Practice Committee and the NSW Aboriginal Homeless Reference and Community Practice Group.

Annissa has been able to reflect on her own journey, her work and her passion and commitment to maintaining and celebrating the culture and contributions of Indigenous peoples in the community through her membership.

“The committees have allowed me the opportunity to give back, to increase connections with the community, which has in turn provided benefits to the people we support and Samaritans staff as well as furthering my own knowledge and education,” Annissa said.

When asked about the importance of NAIDOC week, Annissa beamed with pride.

“I love NAIDOC week – it’s a week that celebrates connection. It showcases who we are and invites everyone in the community to be a part of that. It’s a week where we know that we belong.

“As pillars of our society, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have played – and continue to play – active and significant roles at the community, local, state and national levels.

“As leaders, trailblazers, politicians, activists and social change advocates, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women fought and continue to fight, for justice, equal rights, our rights to country, for law and justice, access to education, employment and to maintain and celebrate our culture, language, music and art.

“NAIDOC week is an opportunity to share our culture, our stories and our knowledge. There are free events held throughout the community and we want everyone to feel welcome and involved,” Annissa said.

Annissa is looking forward to participating in the NAIDOC week marches in Newcastle and Lake Macquarie with her children, attending the women’s dinners and participating in the community day on Newcastle foreshore to celebrate.

This year, Annissa is starting conversations with people about housing shortages, advocating for marginalised groups of people who are facing adversity and highlighting the increased need for tailored domestic violence programs, particularly for those people who don’t fit the usual criteria to participate.

She continues to be a warrior for people in their time of need. Because of her, we can.