“I’ve always known what I wanted to do,” Suanne Sands reflects, half-way through her Milparanga experience. “But I had no idea what to expect from the program. What I’ve come away with so far is a better understanding of the cultural side of leadership.” She says.
While COVID-19 has delayed the second portion of the Milparanga program for Suanne and her cohort, it has already influenced how she sees herself.
“I suppose being more focused on being a leader is what’s changed for me,” she says.
“One of my main goals was to become a manager one day, whether here or somewhere else. The leadership program has definitely made me look at things in a different way. I did think of myself as a leader before, but I didn’t have the confidence to lead. Attending the program has given me a real boost.”
After 11 years working for the Queensland Department of Health, Suanne moved to Sydney and started working with the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence (NCIE) in Redfern, Sydney in 2019. She started as the Events Coordinator, but has just accepted a new role as the Work Health and Safety Business Partner.
“I’m brand new to the role, but it is very exciting,” Suanne says.
“At the moment I’m just trying to get my head around the operations side of things and the responsibilities I have. I want to learn as much as I possibly can.”
Suanne’s background in administration and as a health worker engaging closely with community reflects the passion she has for helping people and understanding what each individual needs. Originally from the coastal town of Yarrabah, about 40 kilometres south east of Cairns, Suanne says Milparanga has reinforced for her the importance of connection with others.
“Being here in Sydney, it is important for me to stay connected, not just to culture on its own, but to people. Down here I don’t have family. Working at the NCIE, with Aboriginal community members, I feel connected here.”
The Milparanga program has also helped reconnect Suanne with country.
“The thing that stood out was when we went over to Orpheus Island and saw the impact of climate change and how it had affected the coral and the sea life. Even though I’m from Queensland, and grew up going out on the water nearly every week, you don’t think about those things enough.
“We looked not just at environmental damage, but what our role can be in repairing it, and that was a valuable reminder for me. I’ve checked that my workplace is recycling and using biodegradable products. Every bit counts.”
When she looks to her future, Suanne says she wants to develop her management skills, and then put them to use back in her community.
“My other goal is to run my own business. Back in my community, the numbers of unemployed is pretty high. I want to open a business – perhaps something that will provide easier access to the resources people need to build on their homeland. Something that will give people jobs and purpose.”
Although Suanne’s Milparanga experience still has a vital final component to go, she has no hesitation in encouraging others to dive into this unique experience.
“I would recommend it to others, especially if they don’t have a clear direction on where they want to go. A lot of younger ones are working but don’t know where to head next. Being on a leadership program that talks about all the options helps with that,” she says.
“They can expect to have fun, they can expect to have some difficult conversations and to meet different people from all over. But even though we’re all from different parts of Australia, the stuff we’re grappling with is similar,” she says.
“For me, if I make a difference in one person’s life, I know I’ve helped someone. Sometimes people just need that little push or a little bit of encouragement to make a difference, and that goes for all of us.”
Suanne Hands is a graduate of Milparanga 7.2