The Purple Bus, which if governments had some shame they would fund more of...

The Purple Bus, which if governments had some shame they would fund more of…

Western Desert Nganampa Walytja Palyantjaka Tjutaku Aboriginal Corporation has taken out the inaugural national Ethical Enterprise Award which is Australia’s only ethical enterprise award for socially conscious business models. The Ethical Enterprise Award is presented by Australian Ethical who are passionate in supporting and celebrating ethical leadership, and conscious business and social innovation.

Western Desert offers holistic renal dialysis care and support to Indigenous people in and around Alice Springs who would otherwise be forced to leave their communities for healthcare. As well as providing primary healthcare and patient advocacy such as housing assistance and dialysis education, Western Desert benefits the wider community by creating employment opportunities for the local Indigenous people.

According to Western Desert Wellbeing program coordinator, Christy van der Heyden, their ‘mobile dialysis’ business model is proving that non-profit community enterprise can deliver positive social and economic impacts.

Just prior to winning the award, Ms van der Heyden said, “We wanted our organisation to be recognised as one that operates within an ethical framework. Our enterprise has a strong ethos and dedication to making sure traditional cultural practices are recognised, respected and celebrated.”

“This includes the ecological knowledge that is shared, the monitoring of plant harvesting and the right to decide how ecological knowledge is used in a commercial sense.”

“We make sure trade is transparent and fair on all levels. Our enterprise addresses some of the social issues associated with kidney disease and entering the award is a great opportunity to expose such issues to a wider audience.”

In the 1990s community members Kiwirrkurra, Mt Liebeg and Kintore were concerned about the difficulties involved for communities and families when members of their family had no choice but to relocate to Alice Springs for renal dialysis treatment. They were concerned for the psychosocial wellbeing of their family members “in missing Country” and in their inability to be nearby and teach about Country to their children and grandchildren.

Kidney disease has now expanded to affect young community members, the largest proportion of those with end stage renal failure tend to be in their late forties and beyond. Western Desert understands that this age group possesses the richest knowledge of language and traditional culture. Their permanent removal from their communities fractures learning for those coming up and creates significant stress for individuals who are unable to meet their cultural obligation and they feel a sense of loneliness and despair.

Dialysis in the Purple Bus while at Kiwirrkurra

Dialysis in the Purple Bus while at Kiwirrkurra

Western Desert recognises that severe dislocation suffered by individuals who face homelessness, loneliness and the shame of living on other people’s traditional Country, Western Desert has come up with mobile renal dialysis.

Various community stalwarts and leading Northern Territorians helped raise $1 million to set up the Western Desert organisation. Nganampa Walytja Palyantjaku Tjutaku translates to ‘making all our families well.’ After the fund raising was completed, the Return to Country program was begun, in getting people home from overnight visits between dialysis treatments. In August 2004, Western Desert opened the first remote renal dialysis clinic in Central Australia at Kintore. I must note, in my view, this puts our Territory and Federal Governments to shame – it is indictment of them that it took Western Desert to set up the first remote renal clinic in Central Australia. They then also set up social support in Alice Springs for family, converting a suburban home into ‘the Purple House.’ Now there is the purple bus, a mobile dialysis unit that reaches communities in the Central Desert, around Alice Springs, without people having to leave their communities for Alice Springs where possible.

More recently Western Desert supported dialysis projects in Yuendumu and Ntarja (Hermannsburg) and Lajamanu.

Paul Smith from Australian Ethical said that his own company invests only in ethical companies that have a positive impact on society and environment. “Although we invest only in listed companies, we want to support and nurture truly ethical businesses and social enterprises, to help them grow.”

He said Australian Ethical “invests 10 per cent of profits back into the community by way of a grants program that supports those community organisations leading the way in ethical practice.”

“We are also 100 per cent carbon neutral.”

Mr Smith said, “Western Desert was chosen for showing the true benefits to tackling a major health issue at a community level. The not-for-profit, non-government Indigenous organisation not only benefits the wider communities with their products, services and workshops but also generates employment for Indigenous people.”