The task ahead
Dr George Burkitt, President of the N.S.W. Men's Health and Wellbeing Assn. writes about his personal vision for the Association.
The interim committee of the NSW Men's Health and Wellbeing Association have invested an enormous amount of effort into setting up the association and organising the official launch. It is the fulfilment of a widely shared dream.
The association now enters a new phase with four main tasks:
Establishing an effective system for participation and representation of members throughout N.S.W.
Building a sense of community among the members
Exploring and educating ourselves about the issues related to men's health and wellbeing
Developing strategies to promote men's health and wellbeing on a state and national level.
Making it happen
The interim committee found that the time they spent on Association work caused some heartache as it took them away from their families too much. This is the time-honoured way that we men do things and we must learn from this experience. We embrace the men's movement because it is about creating new ways of doing things together and being together which are life giving and joyful, rather than physically and emotionally destructive. It is a great challenge to build an organisation that will operate on these principles.
We must also be realistic about our available manpower and finances. Our membership is still small and men's problems vast. We must beware of burning ourselves out.
Our operation will be based on networking and sharing of ideas. Members are invited to bring forward issues they are passionate about and put their time and effort into them. The association's role will be to support members' initiatives provided that they are tackled with integrity and benefit both men and the whole community.
The first is to promote the development of an ongoing supportive community of "heartful" men - men who are in touch with their hearts as well as their intellects. The association must not only be about doing and achieving tangible outcomes; rather we must build a network of men based upon respect, caring and co-operation. One way is through a number of semi-autonomous groups of members sharing concerns such as fatherhood, suicide prevention, anger and violence etc.
The second priority is a system of meetings and workshops through which members and the public may explore and educate themselves about the way manhood affects their own health and wellbeing. These will be "experiential" events, not lectures or classes. Participants will be invited to experience their own knowledge and share that with each other.
In this process, we must be prepared to face our own issues, without which it is inappropriate for us to attempt to influence policy and practice in the wider community. Project groups are encouraged to adopt a similar approach.
Initially we will draw upon the enormous expertise of members, then progressively recruit other people who have not previously identified with the men's movement.
Thirdly, the structure of the organisation must maximise involvement of people outside Sydney. This will involve setting up chapters in regional centres which could also convene their own project groups. State-wide events (not necessarily in Sydney) could be convened to allow sharing of resources and experiences. To aid communication, we will explore teleconferencing and e-mail; we have already provided a modem for the Northern Rivers district.
I started out as a dentist working in the Navy and the N.T. Aboriginal Health Service before going to the UK where I took a masters degree in health care planning, health education and community medicine before completing clinical medicine. After general practice training, I returned to Australia and ran my own practice in Newcastle, also working part time as a specialist in the care of the dying. During this time my marriage unravelled leaving me in joint custody of two small children. Fifteen months later, their mother moved to Sydney and I spent the next 2 years commuting back and forth leaving me physically and emotionally exhausted.
My personal experiences mirrored what I saw in medical practice and I became increasingly involved in men's health and the men's movement. Recently, I moved to Sydney where I am building a practice focussing upon men's health and counselling. I am also co-author of a number of medical textbooks, the updating of which takes up a considerable portion of my time.
I have participated in numerous men's events and other experiential workshops. In Newcastle, I facilitated two men's support groups and set up the "Hunter Menslink" newsletter. I was a member of a men's group in Newcastle and helped form a new group on moving to Sydney. I am a co-leader of "Standing up Alive", an annual men's gathering which aims to explore new ways in which men can build community. I have addressed men's health courses run by the college of G.Ps and Newcastle University and have commenced writing a new book about the psychospiritual aspects of men's health.
My commitment is to the wellbeing of the whole community and I have the pleasure and challenge of being in a relationship with a powerful woman with complementary interests. I believe that by promoting the wellbeing of men, I can maximise my contribution to the making of a more just and peaceful world.
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