Coping with COVID-19: Ayla Williams

Ayla pictured with Elder Stanley “Pop Stan” Smith.

As part of our ongoing series, we speak to Leprena Community and Cultural Resource Officer Ayla Williams.

How has your ministry been affected by the lockdowns?

Like others, we have had to temporarily close our congress which, in turn, has meant no community events, no education and training, no group celebration, no yarning together around the fire, etc. It is the face-to-face contact (that has been affected) mainly. However, I don’t think ministry ever really stops. The essence is expression and holding space for that to happen in a meaningful way – what being spiritual means to us and how it intertwines with the humanistic values we hold within, the moral compass we follow and the love we have. We never stop sharing that around with people we come in to contact with.

How have you responded during this period?

As we like to put it “by doing the Leprena thing and keep on keeping on”. It’s been an interesting time of exploration, particularly of self. We have recently come to the realisation that in our past lives we must have been rock stars from Hollywood – as is evident from the videos on our Facebook page. Come to think of it, a better representation of the level we are on par with would be the typical act of screaming a classic ballad into a bottle of conditioner whilst in the shower, leaving the neighbours wondering if there is a need for emergency services (don’t act like you haven’t tried to impersonate Whitney Houston or Bon Jovi or a summer’s day!)

In all serious, we have been following the lead advice every step of the way, maintaining contact with our communities and families alike by means of social media, phone calls and appropriate outreach visits. We have produced a lot of resources, including poetry, blessings, art, posters and more. It has been a period of learning and unlearning.

What are the particular challenges faced by the First Peoples community?

Aside from the universal adjustment and changes that have been apparent in all our lives and communities – we have found that the very basis of our culture has been compromised to a degree. It’s relational, it’s dance, it’s song, it’s gathering. So it’s been difficult not to be able to do those things in the ways we do them best.

When people feel disconnected from their culture it can have drastic effects on their mental wellness. Being restricted in terms of location has also posed challenges, with the National Parks and a lot of reserves being classified as “out of bounds”. We like to think we are one and the same with the land, the water and the skies. We are hunters. We are in tune with the elements. Being segregated from that has been difficult, but I’m also optimistic and am deeply aware within that, whilst these challenges are upon us, nothing has the power to permanently separate or divide us from what runs through our veins and beats through our hearts and souls – our culture.

Have there been positives out of this time?

I believe any time of indifference can be used as a tool for growth and opportunity. It aids perspective and highlights what is and isn’t important. As a team, we have certainly utilised the challenges and reflected on our work, our approach and realised just how important our work is. As the adage goes, “quality not quantity”.

What are your plans as we (hopefully) continue to emerge from restrictions?

Continue to reconnect, re-energise and regenerate life, show laughter and love – with and for each other.

In this testing time, do you have a personal message or faith reflection you would like to share?

I think these few words sum it up quite perfectly: “We did not come here to fear the future. We came here to shape it.” – Barack Obama

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