Robinvale Men's Program going strong

A cross-cultural connection is proving a key element to the success of an Aboriginal men’s program at Robinvale.

Mallee District Aboriginal Services has operated the Men’s Time Out Services at Robinvale for the past two years, with a focus on healing and behaviour change.
But an energetic case worker from Ghana, who joined the MDAS Robinvale team six months ago, has taken the program to a new level.
Joseph (Joe) Asirifi brought a wealth of knowledge and life experience from work for the United Nations in peacekeeping operations in many countries and also having lived in China, Thailand and South Korea.
“I haven’t worked in the Aboriginal community before and the men initially weren’t quite sure about me – I’m obviously from quite a different background,” Joe said.
Joe is never seen without his trademark tie, so it set him apart from other men who’d worked with the Men’s Time Out Program before.
“At first, they teased me a bit, telling me I was too dressed up to work with them!” Joe said.
“But that’s turned around now, and they’ve come around to the idea that wearing the tie is just one part of who I am,” he said.
The affection culminated with the men on two occasions presenting Joe with special Koori-themed ties to complement his extensive collection and show appreciation.
“I was very honoured – it was pretty special and showed me how much our relationship has grown through the year,” Joe said.
The Men’s Time Out Program has grown from basically nothing this year to 28 men on the caseload.

Joe’s mentor Stephan Gocol said his consistency with the men and his genuine care had resonated with the group, and more and more participants were coming on board.
“The more they came to see Joe’s passion and knowledge to guide them, the more they began to warm to him.  The things they made fun of at the start they are now embracing,” Stephan said.
Joe said it was exciting to see the tangible impacts the program was having.
“When we started the men were fairly reluctant to come along and whereas we struggled to get three men along to our weekly sessions at the start, we now usually have between 13 and 18 attending each week,” he said.
“Even just having so many come along regularly is a huge difference, but over time the men have also become quite open with me about what help they need.
“That’s meant I can put some of them in touch with ways to find jobs and some are also working on getting their driver’s licences.
“These are big, big steps forward.  But it’s all about building the relationships over time and talking together as brothers and friends, and that is what we do.”
The Men’s Time Out Program is available through Mallee District Aboriginal Services at Robinvale (03) 5026 1848.

Pictured: Men’s Time Out participant Harry presents one of the ties to Joseph Asirifi
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