Ngalawi Djardi ‘Sit & Yarn’: ACON Health Retreat for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People Living with HIV

Ngalawi Djardi ‘Sit & Yarn’: ACON Health Retreat for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People Living with HIV

HIV Australia | Vol. 11 No. 3 | October 2013

Adapted from the 2012 Ngalawi Djardi Health Retreat Evaluation written by Meggan Grose.

ACON has been working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People since its inception in 1985.

In 1998 the ACON Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Project was established in acknowledgement of the Ottawa Charter emphasis on empowerment of at risk communities to self-determine ownership and control of the response to HIV and importantly, as a practical demonstration of commitment to reconciliation.

As part of this work, ACON has developed an annual health retreat for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living with HIV.

The aim of the Ngalawi Djardi Health Retreat is to increase the health and wellbeing of HIV-positive Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islander people.

Further, the retreat also works to help reduce the impact of HIV on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their communities.

Ngalawi Djardi achieves this through a combination of health promotion activities delivered within a culturally informed framework.

The name Ngalawi Djardi translates to ‘sit and yarn’. This name captures the cultural context in which the retreat health promotion activity is developed.

Ngalawi Djardi was coined by a community member in a competition run by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Project in 2011.

The competition served as part of a broader community engagement and consultation process that aimed at listening to the experiences and perspectives of community members.

In the context of a continual evaluation and improvement process, the annual health retreat has undergone significant changes over the past 24 months.

It is now delivered in collaboration with a range of partners, both with in ACON and externally. Indeed, the success of Ngalawi Djardi in recent years can be attributed to the cultivation of partnerships and collaborative work practices spearheaded by the then project coordinator, Meggan Grose.

The partners in this project include the ACON HIV Health Promotion Team, the ACON Counselling Team and external partners including the Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council of New South Wales, Positive Life NSW and experienced Aboriginal Facilitators.

Participants can opt into a range of health promotion activities including group information sessions, free time activities and social support through yarning to each other.

The program is developed on experiential learning from the previous retreats the Aboriginal Project has conducted.

The Body Mind Spirit Culture planning method is an example of a deliverable emerging from participant experience and now provides the program equal time dedicated to body, mind and spirit sessions – and the cultural framing for the entire retreat experience.

The model works on the basis that new features or concepts can be incorporated that might add value into the program via a cultural adaptation process which ensures alignment with the fundamental holistic and culturally relevant operating principle.

It offers a much more innovative program model potentially than the standard process of only incorporating features that already meet culturally appropriate parameters.

The Ngalawi Djardi Sit and Yarn Health Retreats continue to evolve to meet the needs of Aboriginal people living with HIV every year.

It is significant that in the 2012 retreat evaluation, 45% of the participants were not on treatment yet 75% reported that they knew how HIV treatments work to deliver both health and prevention benefits.

Body Mind Spirit Culture framing encourages renewal and innovation and further development of the model is underway to ensure that the benefits gained from the retreat extend well beyond the weekend.

We’re also keen to see whether some features of ACON’s Genesis program for newly diagnosed gay men – our most consistently ‘outstanding’ (by participant evaluation) peer workshop – might add value.

Finally, if there’s a ‘secret’ to the success of Ngalawi Djardi, it’s a pretty simple one; the participants determine the journey and the route it takes. Long may it be the case.

The full Ngalawi Djardi Health Retreat Report is available at: