Youth programs which connect First Nations children to their culture have had long-term benefits on improving mental health and wellbeing.

The Gift of Gallang – the Jagera word for ‘healing’- was launched in local primary schools in Inala four years ago, following a rise in the number of attempted youth suicides.

Inala Wangarra CEO Karla Brady says the program uses strengths-based workshops run by Aboriginal facilitators to remind participants that they matter.

“We focus on breathing, identity and recognising the feelings and emotions that these kids have through a lens of building resilience,” Karla said.

“Each week, the children write down how they’re feeling on leaves and hang them on the tree. At the end of the session, they can leave that feeling behind or take it with them. Every session starts with the children clapping everyone into the circle with their clapsticks and ends with them saying the mantra, “I matter, you matter, we matter.”

Karla Brady says she’s seen the huge impacts the program has had on young people in the community.

“Learning about controlling the breath, how our brains work and discussing feelings helps these kids begin the process of healing. The program talks about feelings being like boulders or pebbles and gives these kids the opportunity to let go of certain things and empowers them to solve their own problems.”

Facilitators of The Gift of Gallang program have adapted the program for the participants as it’s expanded into more primary schools, implementing calming sensory therapy workshops for children with special needs.

The program’s success follows  Inala Wangarras Rites of passage program for 15-24 year-olds, which also aims to address the issue of youth suicide and provide opportunities for young adults.

The program finishes with a ball, where participants are celebrated in front of their family and community to mark their transition into adulthood.

“I remember a few years ago, we’d had a really horrible year, with 18 attempted suicides between January and May,” Karla said.

“The ball was at the end of the year and one of the things I spoke about was that every participant who’s been part of this program since 2009 is now in employment or training and every one of them is still alive.

“I can’t show the direct correlation, but it’s amazing that programs like this are giving our kids back their power.”Inala Wangarra is a not for profit, community-controlled organisation that delivers a variety of sport, recreation, justice, education, employment, health, cultural and arts programs for all ages.