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Celebrating women empowering communities

Graphic Illustrations of the forum by Debbie Wood

In October 2023, VTMH held a forum entitled “Women Empowering Communities – Deepening the Dialogue in Mental Health and Wellbeing.” This event was supported by the Darebin Intercultural Centre and was held at the Preston Shire Hall.

This year’s theme was inspired by VTMH’s decade long work with grassroots community work undertaken by women to strengthen mental health and wellbeing. The forum featured expert speakers and was captured live on screen by Debbie Wood, a digital scribe ( The forum was hosted by Tigist Kebede (, who also facilitated the Q&A sessions. Furthermore, she engaged the speakers by interconnecting their key messages throughout the day.

The first keynote speech was by Nyadol Nyuon (, who stressed the importance of self-care and knowing that “being you is enough” when taking on an advocacy role, and the critical need for funding, and governmental support. Nyadol also highlighted how community volunteers, particularly women, are undervalued.

The second speaker was Sheree Lowe (, who acknowledged her strong connection to country, culture and kin. Sheree brought the audience’s attention to the continued impact of colonisation; the need for treaty; and the social and emotional wellbeing model outlined by Indigenous women. We would like to thank Sheree and the First People’s Assembly of Victoria for their commitment to the forum, and for working hard to find us a speaker after Sue-Anne Hunter, and Ngarra Murray were unable to attend due to their respective important work at the Yoorook Justice Commission and the First People’s Assembly of Victoria.

The next presentation was delivered by Dr Mario Peucker, Linda Yang, and Huwieda Idris, the team working with Shire Councils on an anti-racism project. All three speakers stressed the importance of creating safe spaces, and that community-led efforts against racism require lived experience.

Mary Crooks (, delivered the afternoon keynote speech on women’s struggle, agency and achievement. Mary articulated Australia’s long history of oppression, and stressed the importance of truly knowing and understanding our past.

Our final session included snapshot presentations by Nicki Johnson, and Fazlinda Faroo. Nicki led the choir members of the inclusive Community Music Victoria choir, who introduced the audience to sing and respond to the “we honour the land” acknowledgement song. She conducted the audience to chorus along in harmony, and also spoke of the power of music and its ability to ‘soothe the savage beast inside’.

Fazlinda Faroo’s presentation was on conversational journeys with Muslim women. She emphasized the physical symptoms of mental health, as well as the importance of sharing stories for Muslim women in Australia.

Unfortunately Rocca Salcedo was unable to join the forum on the day to present on “Dance and Roll”: a wheelchair dancing project that she founded.

The audience heard a meaningful statement that was written by Rocca, and watched two video clips about her project and the philosophy behind it. You can watch these here and here.

Rocca is known as a person who deeply connects with human rights, and advocacy especially for those who use wheelchairs. We were grateful to have her contribution at this forum as she found a way to make her presence felt.

The day was wrapped up with MC, Tigist Kebede, and digital scribe, Debbie Wood, summing up key messages. Read more about the event here.