Home Australia ‘It’s our purpose’: How two young men from the NT combat mental health issues in their community

‘It’s our purpose’: How two young men from the NT combat mental health issues in their community

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A group of men are depicted sitting in a circle in a field, all with their eyes closed.

When Jahdai Vigona and Danté Rodrigues were headed down the wrong path after high school, they had two options: move on or make a change.

They chose the latter and have since worked tirelessly to improve the physical and mental health of Indigenous men in their community.

The two cousins, both proud Tiwi Islands men, say that with the help of mentors, family and positive role models, they were able to turn things around for themselves and hope to do the same for others.

“Jahdai and I grew up surrounded by a lot of things like domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and crime, and for a while we even went down our own wrong path,” says Danté.

“I’m only 22 years old and I’ve lost more friends and family than I can count,” adds Jahdai.

“I’ve been to more funerals than weddings in my life. That’s the harsh reality for someone like me who comes from the New Testament.”

A better you, 1 percent at a time

Jahdai and Danté decided to take matters into their own hands… or with boxing gloves.

“How can you expect someone to be a good person if you don’t teach them how to be one?” Danté says.

“We’re lucky to have a lot of positive role models to help us, but a lot of people in the Northern Territory, Indigenous or not, just don’t have that support.”

With their One Percent program, they are trying to help Indigenous youth in the Northern Territory become better versions of themselves day by day, one per cent at a time.

Mindfulness is an integral part of Jahdai and Danté’s program.(Supplied)

The duo host weekly sessions in Darwin, inviting anyone interested in exercising and eating right to join.

A session usually starts around 10am at a Darwin oval. Participants begin with a race across the field.

Next up is Danté leading the physical component of the session, which consists of kickboxing, pad work and other exercises.

The second half of the session moves to the more spiritual side.

“We work as a team and I facilitate theater work as a way to strengthen communications and bonds within the group,” Jahdai says.

Theatrical work generally takes the form of games that strengthen group bonds, such as one in which participants have to count to 21 by shouting a number without interrupting each other.

If they make it to 21 without interruptions, Jahdai asks the group who didn’t shout out a number. He encourages the quieter members to let their voices be heard in the next round.

“Sometimes there are louder voices and sometimes there are quieter ones, but we try to teach people that louder voices are no more or less important than quiet ones,” he says.

Group photo of about 20 people in a field, behind them there are soccer goals.

Participants start the day running through the countryside.(Supplied)

The program also incorporates many practical life skills.

“I’ve had to figure out a lot of things on my own, like how to get a car loan, how to do my taxes, how to write a proper job application, how to communicate, how to write effectively,” Jahdai says.

“You think you would learn all these fundamental skills in 12 years of schooling.”

Danté acknowledges that many of these skills are often taught by parents.

“But a lot of kids, Indigenous or not, don’t have that. We want to make those services more available to people like us.”

Jahdai and Danté know firsthand what it’s like to struggle with their mental health.

One of the things that helped them get through it is sports.

Two young men are shown sitting on a flight of stairs.

Jahdai and Danté have used their own personal experiences and backgrounds to develop the program.(ABC News: Leah White)

Discipline through kickboxing

Danté, who is also a professional fighter and has competed in the WAKO Kickboxing World Championships, explains how his sport led him astray.

“There was drug and alcohol abuse, he didn’t go to school, he went crazy and he was just a nuisance. You know, normal stuff,” he says.

“But when I started focusing full time on the sport, that’s when I noticed that my life was improving in almost every aspect.

“A great lesson I learned was to always surround myself with positive people.”

Two men are shown, the one on the left punches the boxing pads held by the one on the right.

Danté says kickboxing helped him gain control of his life.(Supplied)

Kickboxing teaches important values ​​such as discipline and self-esteem, he says.

“That sport creates so much resilience and so much responsibility, compared to any other sport,” he says.

“It teaches young people that when you get knocked down, you have to get back up.”

More than just boxing

“[The program] It covers all aspects of a young male’s needs. It’s spiritual through meditation and mindfulness, there’s a social connection and a mental health aspect where we talk and listen to each other,” Jahdai says.

Jahdai, who has a background in mental health education, has worked extensively with Indigenous youth in correctional settings and remote communities.

Use those experiences in the One Percent Program. Each session focuses on a different value: from discipline to mindfulness to social connections.

A row of men are shown boxing, some holding pads while others wear gloves and punch the pads.

“[The program] covers all aspects of a young man’s needs,” says Jahdai. (Supplied)

Fourteen-year-old Numaka Jarlson says the program has taught her discipline.

“It’s been something that gets me out of bed on the weekends instead of sitting on my phone all day,” he says.

“[The program] “He gives me a really good model of a good man… He gives me a standard that I look up to.”

“I really enjoy sitting down and talking about feelings and life because I think it’s really meaningful and important.

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‘It is our purpose’

The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that in 2022 the suicide rate among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people was more than double that of the general population, and more than three quarters of those who died by suicide were men.

Earlier this year, Darwin research reported that the rate of child and youth suicide in the NT was more than three times the national average.

Two men appear in the photo, both wearing sunglasses and dark shirts. They are standing on a field with soccer goals.

Jahdai and Danté say a program like theirs is needed.(Supplied)

Jahdai and Danté say they receive regular reminders of why they started the program.

“Participants told us that three days before attending a session they felt suicidal. The only thing that got them out of the house was participating in our program,” says Jahdai.

“We didn’t think a program like this would have such an impact and hearing things like this from our participants shows that it is necessary.

“The show is really who we are, our characters, the education of our people, it’s what we want to do. It’s our purpose,” Jahdai concludes.

Danté agrees: “It’s a reflection of who we are.”

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