More than 500 women participated in this year’s Daughters of the West program – a 10-week women’s health program, run by the Western Bulldogs Community Foundation in conjunction with seven local councils across Melbourne and Victoria’s west.
But it’s about much more than how many people participate.
It’s about the impact of the program.
Anne and Georgie Gallagher – mother and daughter – were two of the participants in this year’s program in Maribyrnong City Council.
Their experience provides plenty of inspiration, and is why they were asked to speak at their program’s graduation.
Members and staff from the Western Bulldogs Community Foundation, staff from Maribyrnong City Council, the volunteers and VU students who kindly assisted at the programs and of course to all our wonderful fellow DOTW participants,
Thank you for inviting us to speak this evening. Our names are Georgie Gallagher and Anne Gallagher – or as I’m usually known, ‘Georgie’s mum’.
We are two proud and grateful participants from this year’s DOTW program at Footscray and are delighted to share with you a little of our journey and some of the comments about the program contributed by our fellow participants.
As I’m sure you all know, we are mother and daughter, and we embarked on this DOTW journey together with the aim of hopefully improving, or at least learning ways to improve, our health and fitness. What we got was so much more!
From the moment we walked in on the first evening there was a sense of excitement and inclusion. We weren’t sure what to expect or how we would go but as we approached the registration desk we were met with smiles from the staff and volunteers who were eager to help and to make us feel welcome and included.
We went in to sit down and found that other participants were equally welcoming and friendly. Some even literally embraced us with open arms, as Georgie managed to get a few hugs which became a regular greeting at each session.
The group values we established on the first night; inclusiveness, be friendly, have fun, listen to and respect others, be non-judgemental and supportive and go at your own pace, really resonated with us and the group has stayed true to these throughout the last 10 weeks.
Over this time, there has been a great balance of interactive learning and fun exercise sessions.
We have had many a laugh together like with the challenges of the testing on the first night, to learning Bollywood or Zumba dancing which had us laughing together at the weird and wonderful moves, the aching legs and burning muscles.
The sense of inclusiveness and the non-judgemental environment allowed us all to feel safe and comfortable to be ourselves and that it was OK to go at our own pace whilst encouraging and supporting each other and having a laugh along the way. And hence probably why many said they found it enjoyable and looked forward to coming every week.
A highlight for us was the Zumba sessions especially the way Catalina made exercise so much fun including her ‘Tequila’ dance which nearly brought the house down.
It’s probably timely here to also mention that we learnt about alcohol cultures. That, and the session on gender equity, challenged many things we don’t, or I hadn’t, really thought about or realised the impact of. So these sessions were very thought provoking and a game-changer.
We also shared poignant moments when some wonderful, courageous women came and shared their very personal stories with us, such as during the Women’s Health Week and when Loretta shared her journey about being a carer. Their openness and willingness to show their vulnerabilities touched our hearts and was a true inspiration to us all as were the honest reflections bravely shared by our fellow participants.
We’ve learnt about healthy food, how to read food labels, how much sugar is in soft drink – which has shocked us into abstinence – and even had fun preparing our own healthy salad complete with dressing. This was a feat for me not being the best cook and my family are ever grateful for improving my skills and teaching me a recipe that I can’t possibly burn! The energy and noise in the room that session was testament to how engaged we all were and how much fun we had.
We’ve celebrated diversity and were astounded at the numerous and richness of our varied backgrounds. We learnt about mental fitness and practical tips for supporting each other – So I ask - Are you OK?? If not, we even had a very approachable psychologist Radhima on hand, ever ready to listen in case a session raised concerns for anyone. This program thought of everything!
And of course our last session provided us with resources to help us transition out into the wide-world by showing us where to find walking groups, health education and support networks.
Georgie and I will remember fondly the great comradery we have shared and remember how warmly you welcomed us into the group, the many learnings and the great fun we had along the way. You are all special and through your warm welcome, support, inclusiveness, acceptance and great participation, you have made this program so rewarding for us and I think I can safely safe for everyone.
We would like to finish by thanking all those that made this wonderful experience possible including, the Western Bulldogs Community Foundation, WorkSafe, Zoe and Emma from Maribyrnong City Council, Radhima and others from VU – apologies that I can’t remember everyone’s names – all the volunteers and last, but definitely not least, our wonderful, warm and fantastic fellow Daughters of the West.
So fellow graduates, we are ready!
Go forth… we wish you all a full, happy and healthy life. Now that we have all the knowledge and skills, there is no stopping us! Congratulations everyone!