Culturally safe hub delivers vaccines to Aboriginal community

Department of Education staff worked tirelessly to convert Kimberwalli from a Centre of Excellence into a vaccination hub.

Image: For family: Aunty Rhonda was empowered to get her vaccination.

Aboriginal people living in western Sydney now have access to a dedicated and culturally safe vaccination centre thanks to a multi-agency collaboration.

Kimberwalli, an Aboriginal centre of excellence built on the grounds of the old Whalan High School, has been repurposed temporarily to deliver vaccinations to the Aboriginal community.

NSW Department of Education staff helped transform the site into a COVID-19 vaccination centre, working with staff from Aboriginal Affairs NSW and the local Aboriginal community to develop a cultural safety strategy.

And among the first to get vaccinated when bookings opened last week was self-confessed anti-vaxxer, Aunty Rhonda Ryan, who advocated for the establishment of a Yarning Circle in the vaccination hub.

Aunty Rhonda, who is a member of the Kimberwalli interim Advisory Board, said she would not have been vaccinated if the centre at Kimberwalli had not been opened.

“I was an anti-vaxxer turned cautionary vaxxer,” she admitted.

“Kimberwalli staff sought my views about how to make this a culturally safe experience and I saw that they had listened.

“I was also able to be part of a cultural smoking ceremony to open the hub and I was able to cleanse away doubts. I had the most positive safe and supportive experience [getting my vaccination].

“I trust Kimberwalli, I know they genuinely care for our community, and I would not have had my vaccination anywhere else. I did this for my family and for my community.”

Key to protecting community

Minister for Education Sarah Mitchell said that supporting the Aboriginal community in Western Sydney to get vaccinated was key to protecting the community.

“We want to ensure Aboriginal students and their families have easy access to the COVID-19 vaccine, so converting Kimberwalli into a temporary vaccination centre for the Aboriginal community was a great option,” Ms Mitchell said.

Kimberwalli director, Kelly Stanford said it was wonderful to see the response to the conversion of the centre into a vaccination hub and the collaboration across government and the Aboriginal community.

“Our focus was on more than just converting the physical space,” Ms Stanford said.

Kimberwalli staff, interim Advisory board members and the Aboriginal Education Consultative Group (AECG) played a key role in facilitating Aboriginal voices into the cultural safety design of the clinic, with the NSW AECG donating bags and learning resources for young people aged 12 years and up that attended the hub.

“Seeing our community in western NSW impacted by the COVID virus has reinforced the need to do everything we can to lift vaccination rates within our Aboriginal community, particularly our young people and our Elders.

“We are really proud to have been able to ensure this vaccination centre is a welcoming space for our community.”

Local Penrith resident Blake Tatafu, the second person vaccinated and a staff member of Kimberwalli, said he was also initially opposed to getting the COVID vaccine.

“It wasn’t until I stared seeing more people get sick, my community start to get sick, that I thought it’s my responsibility to keep my mob safe, keep my community safe,” Mr Tatafu said.

Working in partnership

Aboriginal Outcomes and Partnerships executive director Karen Jones said the Kimberwalli vaccination site would most likely operate until the end of this year, but would be extended if needed.

The purpose was to provide easy access to vaccines to the area’s Aboriginal community to keep them safe.

“The Kimberwalli site is very much part of the local community and it makes sense to provide access to vaccines for our Aboriginal people at a place they feel comfortable visiting,” she said.

Kimberwalli, which means many stars in the local Dharug language, was developed in collaboration with the local Aboriginal community to support young Aboriginal people transitioning from school to further education, grounded in a solid connection with Aboriginal culture and community.

The Kimberwalli vaccination centre will initially operate 11am to 6pm five days a week with Pfizer vaccinations available to anyone aged 12 years and over. Bookings can be made via a free 1800 922 886 number between 8am – 8pm.

The agencies involved in the transformation of the centre were:

  • Department of Education Western Sydney Asset Management Unit who quickly transformed the building where vaccinations take place;
  • The AECG contributed to the design of the cultural safety strategy and the NSW AECG donated bags and learning resources for young people;
  • NSW Health, Aboriginal Affairs NSW and Creative Services NSW worked with Kimberwalli and the Western Sydney Local Health District to create signage and artwork to create a warm and welcoming environment;
  • Aboriginal Affairs NSW arranged for food hampers and care packages;
  • The Aboriginal Employment Service sourced the local Aboriginal workforce; and
  • Transport NSW provided shuttle buses to increase community access to the hub.

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