Kamla Ruthnam-Webb was runner-up in the 2019 International Women’s Day Coffs Coast Woman of the Year awards, and we can see why! Her endless dedication to supporting other members of the community to reach their goals is nothing short of inspiring.
Hi Kamla. What’s your relationship with the Coffs Coast?
I moved to the Coffs Coast with my parents when I was eight months old. I was born in Scotland, along with my brother. My mother was born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland, and my father Durban, South Africa. They both moved here for work. I love the Coffs Coast and would never leave.
You have volunteered your time mentoring young Indigenous people for the past few years; what led you into that role?
In 2010 I was studying a degree in business at Southern Cross University. I was doing this through correspondence, due to some personal issues.
My mother met a young man who was running the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience (AIME) at SCU at the time and she gave me his contact number, as she knew I wanted to volunteer for something in the community and thought this would be a good opportunity.
I contacted this person, Clark, and started volunteering as a mentor for AIME. After six months, it was decided to close the after school learning centres that I was volunteering for that ran in two locations every week in term time. These centres supported the culture and education of Aboriginal children and young adults.
By this stage, Clark and I had formed a personal relationship, and our hearts were set on continuing with these Learning Centres, so we both volunteered to keep them running.
Clark left his job with AIME, and we continued running these centres while I worked and Clark worked tirelessly to find a way to continue them as a full-time job. This happened in 2013.
For the last eight and a half years I have continued to volunteer for the program and Clark has built the now not-for-profit organisation, Bularri Muurlay Nyanggan Aboriginal Corporation into an organisation which provides direct employment to over 16 casual and full-time staff, and education and cultural support to hundreds of Aboriginal children and young adults.
In March this year I have come on as an employee to train up some young adults for management roles within the organisation. This has allowed me to spend my extra time and resources on some other organisations in need. I will always continue to do more in my role here, as I believe in this organisation and the people in it more than anything.
You also volunteer weekly at a homework centre for Indigenous children; what do you do there?
The learning centres/homework centres gave so much to me, more than I gave to them. Helping children do their homework, read and do cultural activities opened up a part in my life that I enjoyed the most. The learning centres focus on allowing our Aboriginal children to have that extra support they may need to keep up with school work. And more importantly, we offer cultural activities. Language revitalisation of the Gumbaynggirr language has been the main focus. There is a strong group of Aboriginal community teachers (which includes Clark, now my husband) that are all supporting the learning of our young children, including teaching our five year old daughter.
Could you tell us about some of the other work you do?
In Coffs Harbour in general I meet a lot of young women who need assistance in other areas of their lives, not just what the learning centres can offer them. Some of these are from the programs, and others are not.
I am privileged enough to have been able to finish my education and further study in a Bachelor in Business, Certificate 3 and 4 in Personal Training, Certificate 3 in Training and Assessment and a Diploma in Practice Management. I understand that not all people get these opportunities and when I see, or am asked for help in supporting young people to up skill and learn in general about running a business, I always try to help.
I have also helped young adults in housing and other general school needs.
What do you enjoy most about your volunteer work?
I love working with young people, and I love working with the local Aboriginal Community. I lived in Coffs Harbour for 24 years and knew nothing; I was naive.
When I met Clark and started volunteering, I learned so much about the local Gumbaynggirr community and the people in it, and it opened up a whole other world in Coffs Harbour that I never knew and I love so much.
What outcomes do you hope to see from this work you do?
In paid work, and in the volunteer work space, I hope that more people offer their time to help in local places in Coffs Harbour, whether it’s youth, general community or the elderly.
For Aboriginal children and young adults in this area, I would love to see, in support of my husband’s efforts, more Gumbaynggirr language being taught and spoken; this is very important to my family.
Can you tell us about a success story that you’re really proud of?
There are many young women who started in the learning centres in 2010 and are still with us today.
In 2010 we had one young girl who was in Year 5 at Coffs Harbour Public School. Last year, she finished Year 12 at Orara High School. She fell behind at times, but we both worked
together long nights to finish her assignments and hand in her work to complete Year 12 and graduate. She also works in our not-for-profit café, Nyanggan Gapi at Sealy Lookout and also does some office work for us. She has developed many skills, and we are stoked to have her now work with us. We are looking at a traineeship or a study path she can take on now.
We have another young adult who struggled with personal issues. In providing her with training support for her to compete barista training and a certificate in safe food handling, she now works in our not-for-profit café and catering.
She used to be so quiet; now she comes in and lights up our office with her smile and giggles. I have always tried to make sure she feels equal and that if she needs help with anything, we fully support her to reaching her goals. My role now is to train her up as our café manager.
You won the runner-up award for the 2019 International Women’s Day Coffs Coast Woman of the Year; how did that make you feel?
I want to say, “like passing out”, as I was so nervous. I was honoured to even be nominated, humbled to be a finalist and shocked and touched to be the runner up. I like being private, so it has been hard for me to be on stage and even to be asked to be interviewed. Being at the International Women’s Day Breakfast was the most nervous and anxious I have been in a very long time, but it was so inspiring to hear and see all the women who were involved. I promised myself when I was nominated and now runner up, that I would use this to help more people. I have done this with the money I won.
How did you end up being a part of the International Women’s Day awards?
I was nominated by my mother, with some help from other community members. I never wanted recognition for helping anyone. My parents and general family play a major role in supporting me to support others. If it wasn’t for the selflessness and generosity of my parents growing up towards other people, I would not be who I am today. They are truly my inspiration – especially my mother.
It’s an honour to go on a journey with people who just need a little support at certain times in their lives. It makes me appreciative every day of everything that I have.
For anyone else interested in volunteering their time, how would you suggest they get going?
Reach out to any community organisation; there are so many people and places that need help.
I think people get overwhelmed with thinking of putting themselves out there to help in some way. Don’t think that you need to give hours
every week or lots of money to make a difference. Little bits for us, mean a lot to other people. We will always sit where we have more than others and also less than others. Any help is still help, no matter how much it is. It could even be paying the $2 short the person in front of the line in the supermarket is. Or, buying a fresh roll or coffee for someone who lives on the street. Just be aware of all the community in Coffs Harbour, not just the ones you associate with.
For any further help with volunteering, you can email me on firstname.lastname@example.org