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Coorong communities use sunflowers to ward off the darkness
They’re not only a bright and colourful addition to any garden – sunflowers can also start life-saving conversations, says Coorong Conversations Matter’s Pauline Linke.
After sharing an optimistic story with a class of students about a small sunflower seed growing in a student’s garden pot, Coorong district resident Pauline Linke has taken her passion of helping people with mental illness to an immeasurably sunnier space.
After more than 30 years working in mental health, Ms Linke continues to help people keep their faces in the sunshine and less in the shadows.
“After all, that’s what sunflowers do – they follow the sun,” she says.
She became involved with her local suicide prevention network, Coorong Conversations Matter, in 2017.
The volunteer-run community group works to improve mental health and wellbeing, reduce the stigma associated with suicide and increase community understanding about where to access help when it is needed.
It also provides support to people bereaved by suicide, with a focus on reducing the impact of suicide by educating the community and empowering others to seek help and give hope.
“Remembering my improvised sunflower story, I suggested that the group consider a sunflower planting program across the Coorong District Council area,” she said.
“The group thought it was a great idea, and off we went.
“After all, everyone loves sunflowers; they are reminiscent of our childhood, they’re cheerful and they really put on a beautiful show.
“With so many people participating, they also start conversations, which is part of the reason for multiple plantings.”
As sunflowers follow the sun, even on cloudy days, the concept has proven to be a winner for mental health conversations within the region.
After four successful years, the small Coorong Conversations Matter committee continues to bag, prepare flyers and distribute thousands of free sunflower seed packets throughout the region each year.
“With the demand for the packets growing, we are forever thankful to all who have, and continue to donate, sunflower seeds,” Ms Linke said.
Representing a long life and lasting happiness, most sunflower varieties stand in full bloom throughout the whole of summer, so with summer just around the corner, it is a wonderful time to start planting your free sunflower seeds.
“Our sunflowers continue to surprise everyone involved with unusual sizes: some tall, some short, some with large heads of flowers and some smaller,” Ms Linke said.
“We don’t know what is going to pop up – this is wonderful for starting ‘the conversation’.”
Sunflowers are fabled for bringing good fortune and positive opportunities.
They are said to be a lucky charm for new beginnings; but as people are naturally competitive, supporters enjoy seeing bigger flowers bloom.
Ms Linke was deeply heartened with the generosity of local communities and their continued enthusiasm for the project, resulting in sunflowers on display at differing stages throughout spring and summer.
The group hoped that their sunflower project would create conversations within the community, helping people to connect, prevent and respond to suicide.
“The community support and interest shown in our sunflower project throughout the South East, Murray Mallee and Murraylands has been enormous,” Ms Linke said.
“We welcome all communities throughout the state to jump on board and use this uplifting program.”
We may have come a long way in recent years de-stigmatising mental illness and suicide, but we still have a long way to go.
Ms Linke continued to hope that one day, people would feel more comfortable to speak up about their mental health struggles, without judgement and with the empathy they deserve.
Sunflowers provided a non-threatening tool to support that mission, she said.
“I’ve had a vision from the very start: I’ve dreamt of mass plantings of smiling sunflowers alongside every main arterial road in the state, with large banners at the entrance to each town from mid-November until the beginning of April, explaining the meaning of our sunflowers,” she said.
Genuine Support Services Australia will launch their support for the program on the International Day of People with Disability in Murray Bridge.
A free event will be held from 10am to 1pm in the sound shell at Edwards Square on Friday, December 1.
Visitors will be able to experience a sunflower-themed photo booth by Fresh Perspective Photography, a variety of accessible activities and with a light lunch – and, of course, plenty of free sunflower seeds for everyone.
Attendees will also be in the running for a chance to win a $250 gift card; to be eligible to win, attendees must be present at the time of the draw at 12.30pm.
More information about the sunflower program: Phone Pauline Linke on 0409 617 501.
More information about Coorong Conversations Matter: www.coorong.sa.gov.au.
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