Empowering First Nations Communities to End Rheumatic Heart Disease

Our Remote Laundries not only address the health issues associated with a lack of washing facilities in remote communities, they create employment opportunities and a hub for conversation and education.

Our recent collaboration with the Heart Foundation’s Champions4Change program was one such opportunity.

Through the project, Empowering First Nations Communities to End Rheumatic Heart Disease (RHD), we aimed to improve health, social and emotional wellbeing for First Nations peoples in remote regions of the Northern Territory, with three of our laundries participating in this culturally safe program designed to help eradicate RHD.

Through workshops, our Remote Laundries staff were able to build their knowledge around the environmental factors that contribute to acute rheumatic fever (ARF) and RHD, such as skin sores and scabies and the preventative actions and protections that prevent the spread.

Milyakburra laundry team members, Jessica Lalara and Ainsley Wurramara thoroughly enjoyed the workshops and the deeper understanding gained about the purpose of the Remote Laundries project. Excitingly, Jessica and Ainsley have now accepted roles as Champions, an incredible outcome for the project and their community.

“It was my first time learning about this. It was good for me to understand, I could see how it is all true,” said Ainsley. “I learnt about the process of ‘cheeky’ and how we get sores and then heart sickness.”

“The Heart Mob helped teach me about ‘cheeky’,” said Jessica, who lives with RHD. “We are doing the right thing washing the blankets and sheets for community. We need to get all of community… if they don’t bring their things to the laundry, they might get sick. We don’t want people here to be sick.”

Milyakburra laundry team members, Ainsley Wurramara and Jessica Lalara with the Heart Foundation's Vicki Wade.
Driving change

Aboriginal Investment Group (AIG) CEO, Liz Morgan-Brett recognises the power of the Remote Laundries to create change.

“The beauty of the laundry is it provides opportunities to engage with the community,” said Liz.

“The collaboration between AIG and the Heart Foundation’s local Champions follows the recognised need to prioritise Aboriginal voices and leadership in health responses; the importance of developing community capacity with the value of lived expertise; being locally and culturally responsive; and the importance of collaborative partnerships to drive progress.”


The Champions4Change program

The Heart Foundation’s ‘Champions4Change’ program, designed by First Nations Heart Health leader Vicki Wade, is a culturally safe program led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities.

From its initial development in 2018, there are now over 30 Champions across Queensland, South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia and the Northern Territory, representing 27 communities.

The Champions are people from across Australia with the lived experience of ARF and RHD, including those with the conditions, family members impacted by the disease through caring for or losing a loved one to ARF or RHD, and health professionals working in the field.

The Champions work through a peer support model to support each other and advocate for health system reform to end RHD. They help design and deliver education and awareness programs responsive to local community needs and priorities and inform resource and program development through their lived experiences and expertise. Champions know the importance of understanding environmental factors in their work towards ending RHD.

Funding for the Empowering First Nations Communities to End Rheumatic Heart Disease project was provided by The Albert George and Nancy Caroline Youngman Trust.