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Traditional western models for ‘helping’ Aboriginal communities don’t work. By turning these models upside down in favour of building authentic relationships and on-the-ground community engagement, Denise Hagan and the Puuya Foundation are empowering a remote Aboriginal community in Cape York, Australia, and delivering successful, life-changing programs. Denise Hagan works at the complicated intersection where the very sincere desire to help remote Aboriginal communities held by governments, philanthropists and nonprofits alike, clashes with entrenched, misinformed and western-centric attitudes to engagement, empowerment, funding and solutions.
Invited by the community elders to the remote Aboriginal town of Lockhart River in the far north of Cape York, Denise was meant to stay three months. She ended up staying five and a half years and is currently living in Lockhart River again. Denise came to develop a deep understanding of the multi-generational poverty and disadvantage faced by the community, the strength and determination of the people living there, and the cold hard fact that despite good intentions, the standard government procedures for programs and funding would not deliver the solutions needed.