Beaudesert’s Jermayne Williams is doing his bit to close the health and life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.JERMAYNE Williams is a fit and healthy 22-year-old man with the world at his feet.
He works out at the gym five times a week, plays sport, eats healthy, works hard at his community support career in Beaudesert and quit smoking two years ago.
The fire in his eyes shows a passion and ambition for life – a desire to learn, grow and make a difference in the lives of those around him.
Jermayne has got a lot of things going for him in life and the potential for a long and bright future ahead if he keeps doing what he is doing.
There is just one thing though.
Jermayne has Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander blood running through his veins, which means he can expect to live 10 to 17 years less than other Australians.
THE Close the Gap campaign is a national push to end health inequality and close the health and life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
For Jermayne it is a matter of life and death – not just for him, but for his five brothers, his mum, his dad, grandparents, nieces and nephews, cousins, aunties and uncles.
The prospect of living a shorter life than his non-Indigenous gym buddies and footy mates even though he is making the same healthy lifestyle choices as them is like a punch in the guts.
“It’s confronting – seeing that number in front of you scares you a bit, seeing I could die 10 to 17 years younger than people who aren’t Indigenous,” he said.
“My health at the moment is really good – I play for the Beaudesert Kingfishers, I play some touch football, I quit smoking, went back to the gym and started eating healthier.
“You put some time in now, it’s going to pay off in the long run.”
Jermayne said knowing the reality of the life expectancy gap motivated him to keep going with his healthy lifestyle choices so he could be around to help other people.
“It plays a large role in how I react to certain things – growing up you see your aunties and uncles not making the best choices for their own health and I’ve reflected on that and decided not to make those choices as well,” he said.
“My lifestyle choices are a lot different to others and to some people I’ve seen growing up because I want to be around a long time.”
SEEING people dear to him making poor health choices which could reduce their life expectancy is painful for Jermayne.
But through the stories he has learned growing up – stories like the one of his mother being forcibly removed from her home at Cherbourg as a two-year-old in 1972 – he knows the scars run deep for many people.
He holds a wisdom beyond his years that tells him even though he is managing to build a healthy lifestyle for himself, other people may need more time than him to break their unhealthy habits.
“The answer to closing the gap is awareness and understanding,” he said.
“Some people make certain choices because of stuff that’s happened towards them – with the generation before me there was the Stolen Generation – and some people make the lifestyle choices they do because it helps them cope,” he said.
“It’s not my place to say it but sometimes it’s their way to escape the reality and some of the ways they deal with it might not be that healthy.”
He said patience was key.
“There needs to be patience around understanding people’s situations – understanding our culture and how strong it is – it’s not a lifestyle or a life choice, it’s family,” he said.
“Sometimes you fall into habits that other people have – if you hang around them so much you start picking up their habits and it’s about breaking that cycle.
“If you’re a mother and you smoke you can’t really be angry when your kids grow up and start smoking – it’s just about breaking that chain.”
KNOWING his life could be cut shorter because of his Indigenous heritage is both upsetting and motivating for Jermayne.
He hates hearing about health inequality but he loves knowing there is something he can do to change it.
Aside from shifting to healthier lifestyle, Jermayne is putting his money where his mouth is – working on projects through the Mununjali Jymbi Centre and Oxfam aimed at improving people’s quality of life.
He sees the significance of governments funding public awareness campaigns to help close the gap, but he also knows the significant power individuals have to make a change in their own lives.
“For me it was a case of opening my mind up to the wider picture of the world and how my body operates,” he said.
“I was seeing I wasn’t that healthy because growing up I did the teenage thing smoking then I quit smoking, put on weight, bulked up a bit and thought it was time for a change because I couldn’t even run 100m without getting puffed.
“It comes back to an individual – their choice to understand that they need to choose their lifestyle and how important that choice is.”I
Close the Gap Day is on March 19.
For more information visit www.oxfam.org.au/explore/indigenous-australia/close-the-gap/
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