Last week, Thurs 18th & Fri 19th, I attended South Australia’s first Emergency Relief Conference. It was put on by FACSIA (Family and Community Services and Indigenous Affairs a federal government department) and Lutheran Community Care. It was provided free of charge for anyone working in an emergency relief outlet. Teen Challenge provides an ER (Emergency Relief) outlet for the Murraylands area. We give out ER funds provided by FACSIA in the form of food vouchers, nappies, chemist prescriptions and clothing.
I took four of my staff and we had a great two days! The best sessions for me were – Mental Health and keynote speaker Shanaka Fernando. The mental health session was an introduction to the Mental Health First Aid course which was fun, interesting and challenging. The presenter was great and I’d like to do the whole course and have all of my staff do it too.
Shanaka Fernando started a restaurant called Lentil As Anything. There is no price list at his restaurants you pay what you feel the meal is worth or what you can afford. If you don’t have any money then you don’t have to pay anything. He started the first restaurant with just himself and some friends; a heroin addict and two homeless guys. They went ahead and began feeding needy people and helping them to help themselves. They didn’t sit around and talk about it or get bogged down in red tape they just started doing it. People told him he was crazy, his Dad even had a psychologist visit to check him out. Other restaurant owners predicted that he’d be out of business in a few months but instead it flourished.
Shanaka has three restaurants in Melbourne and will have three more there before the end of the year. All the restaurants are vegetarian as there are fewer regulations for running a vegetarian restaurant than one serving meat dishes. The work has developed into far more than just the restaurants. Each restaurant endeavours to meet the needs of the workers and the local community be they Indigenous Australians, migrants or refugees. Some of the other programs they run are: English as a Second Language, driver education, cultural expression: art galleries, music venues, print media, fostering understanding between different cultural groups, computing classes, providing housing, legal assistance, medical, immigration, interpretation, mentoring, hospitality training, understanding banking and more as the needs arise.
One of the audience questions was, when are you opening a restaurant in Adelaide and Shanaka said, “now that you’ve heard about it you can do it.”
There is much more info about the restaurants at their website Lentil As Anything
Shanaka was also awarded Australian Of The Year this year.