EON Foundation collaborates with remote communities to improve health outcomes with thriving vegetable gardens.
As a great example of people working together, (we call it the power of &), the EON Foundation is working hand-in-hand with remote communities to ensure their children have the same opportunities for thriving health that all Aussie kids deserve.
Fifteen years in, EON Foundation’s co-founder and chair Caroline de Mori’s emotional investment in the work she does is evident in every word spoken about remote communities. When retelling her conversations with families who have invited EON into their community, her strong voice is punctuated with emotion.
“When I ask them why they want EON to come, what it means and what we can achieve, they say things like ‘we’re dying too young’ and their children are sick and they don’t want that,” Caroline said. “By inviting us in, they’re doing something concrete, positive, and proactive to try and reverse that. It’s very powerful and it’s a huge responsibility for us to honour the trust they’re placing on us.”
Caroline was running her own business working with the mining and resources sector and regularly travelled across the Kimberley and Pilbara regions to visit key stakeholders. On her travels, she witnessed firsthand the statistics of Aboriginal disadvantage in remote communities and was appalled by the chasm dividing the children in these communities and her own four children.
“The Telethon Kids Institute had just published a landmark, longitudinal study on Aboriginal children’s health and I thought it was so inequitable that these children and their families were suffering from diseases that were extinct, even in third world countries, and yet here it is in our community, our fellow Australians,” Caroline explained. “It seemed everybody was really desensitised by these statistics and I got really angry about it.”
Realising there was no bridge between the research and actually helping the communities, Caroline and co-founder Katrina Burton approached the late Ernie Bridge (Western Australia’s first Aboriginal government minister) and started visiting the communities to ask what they could do.
“We approached the communities as partners, we weren’t going to be a free service that came in with no consultation or agreement,” Caroline recalled. “I travelled with Ernie, who was an outstanding human being and like many Aboriginals suffered from Type 2 Diabetes. We saw the message was getting out that to prevent Type 2 Diabetes you must eat more fruit and veg, less sugar and fat and forget the sugary drinks.
When I looked around, I thought, that’s all well and good but where do you get that from? It’s one thing to know it, it’s another thing to do it when you have no fresh food in the local store, so of course you’re going to eat frozen pizza, pies and coca cola if that’s what’s available.”
Caroline already had a relationship with the Djarindjin Lombadina school in the Dampier Peninsula, so she approached the Prinicpal and asked if they could grow the fruit and vegetables in some unused land attached to the school.
“The Principal was onboard straight away and it became our first project, we went in there like a bunch of mad women, fencing off 600 square metres and shovelling that much cow poo,” Caroline said, laughing. “But we managed to create this large vegetable garden with raised vegetable beds and all of the kids helped and we worked together. Eventually, after watching us for a few months, community members started to get involved and became engaged and enthusiastic too.”
Within six weeks, everyone was literally enjoying the fruits and veg of their labour, with kids picking off green beans to snack on and taking home tomatoes. As the garden flourished, the children’s health did simultaneously.
“The impact of the veggie gardens is instant, once you start getting fresh food into the children, their skin sores cleared up and they became bright and shiny, and full of energy,” Caroline enthused.
EON Foundation became inundated by invitations from other communities to set up vegetable gardens, to the point there are now 24 thriving remote communities. Since the Foundation’s official establishment in 2005, it has evolved from vegetable, fruit and bush tucker gardens to include education on gardening, cooking and nutrition that explain thehealth benefits of the food, and hygiene programs.
The key to EON’s success is the consultation and time invested in the communities. EON is not a quick fix as they spend three to five years with each community to ensure community members are well supported to establish longterm, prosperous gardens.
“While we try to make ourselves obsolete from day one because eventually we have to move on to the next community, we are embedded and entrenched in these communities,” Caroline commented. “But the communities give us back more love for what we do than I feel we’ve given to them, the response from the communities, the trust and the love we receive is just amazing.”
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