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  • Marika Kontellis

Communities Matter

This time thirty two years ago, I just finished my HSC and was set to start my new job at Grosvenor Hospital in Summer Hill, Sydney. As a nearly 18 year old I got a job through a contact to work with children with disability. My job was to care for them in their residential care setting. My supervisor was Sister Winifred. It was nearly Christmas 1983 and a significant change in care and support was about to begin. The deinstitutionalisation of care was picking up pace and after just one shift in that residential care facility I knew it couldn’t happen fast enough!

Fast track to last Saturday. I was supporting a group of people to come together and celebrate Christmas. The venue was a community hall with food, disco music and a lot of dancing. Despite all the talk of inclusion and deinstitutionalisation, coupled with billions of dollars into a care system, here we were dancing to Stayin’ Alive and having the privilege of witnessing a community of people who are connected through geography, ability, school, work and a love of disco music.

The de-institutionalisation process of the social care system had to happen. What came next however was just as bad. We began to see the over-professionalised polices that should never have been. At one stage in the late 90’s I remember an ADHC senior person telling me that people with disability shouldn’t be seen in groups. According to her, inclusion meant that people with disability had engage with their non-disabled peers to live truly inclusive or “normalised “lives. What a crock!

Community strength is what matters most. If a group of people have so much in common and are truly comfortable to be themselves in their own space then who cares what the government policy of the day says! What I saw last Saturday was community. People who have known each other for years. People who have shared lived experiences and people who know about each other and like each other’s company. This is what matters most and in a time of yet more government reform (NDIS) community strength is what will matter the most.

Don’t wait for government to fund community. Don’t rely on service providers to build it. Get together and encourage and support it every chance you get.

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