Bringing Healthy Smiles

It was not your usual dentist visit! Treatments from the Dental Therapist took place under the shade of a tree and children brushed their teeth under a nearby garden tap. MAF and Laynha Health are partnering together to bring health and education to the isolated communities of Arnhem Land.

Bringing Healthy Smiles

Story and photos: Rebekah Somandin


Flying over the sparse bushland and numerous winding rivers, the scenery was dotted only occasionally with a few small clumps of houses. It felt as though we were flying in the middle of nowhere, with only trees out one window and the ocean out the other. Finally we landed in a small Homeland on the tip of a peninsula, a little place called Baniyala, or Stingray.

I was accompanying Caroline Falconer for the day, a Dental Therapist who regularly visits many different Homelands throughout Arnhem Land. As I watched her treat the children with gentleness and care, I felt privileged that MAF could play a part in supporting these communities through health and education.

Providing treatments outside a home in the community

Zackatah Marawili gives a big smile


Essential services in remote Homelands

Caroline works for Laynhapuy Homelands Aboriginal Corporation, an organisation that is owned by the Aboriginal people of East Arnhem Land. The Board is made up of traditional elders from all of the Homelands in the area. Doctors, nurses and dentists work for them under Laynha Health, travelling out to the remote Homelands with their skills and their culturally sensitive care. They also employ Homelands residents in Aboriginal Community Health roles.

Their work enables the Yolngu to live in their traditional lifestyle while still having access to essential health services. This has a huge impact within the culture, as they are assisting to return the dignity, identity and sense of purpose to the Yolngu as they live on their traditional land.

Not your usual dentist visit

As a Dental Therapist, Caroline spends her days travelling to different Homelands and caring for the teeth of children under the age of 18.

Today she was applying a fluoride treatment as a preventative for decay, which she does every six months. Walking around the community in the heat of the day, she called out to every child she could find, all of whom she knew by name as she had been visiting them since they were babies. Treatments took place under the shade of a tree and children brushed their teeth under a nearby garden tap.

In addition to this, Caroline provides clinical treatments in a small, very basic clinic room. The children are quiet and compliant under her care.

Caroline talks with local Aboriginal Health Worker, Wesley Dhamarrandji

Zackatah Marawili receives a checkup in the clinic room


Education in Oral Health

Using many words in the local language, Caroline talked with the mothers to educate them on the importance of brushing your teeth every day. She showed graphs and photos of children’s teeth with common dental problems in the area. Nyuka Dhamarrandji, the local Aboriginal Health Worker for Laynha Health, helped explain the photos to the young children in their own language, telling them to avoid sugary food and drinks.

Caroline and the local Aboriginal Health Worker, Nyuka Dhamarrandji, talk about the graphs and photos explaining Oral Health


Caroline shows Nyuka the teeth of Kristinal Marawili


The difference with MAF

To travel to Baniyala would take about 3.5 hours on rough, pot-holed dirt roads. During the wet season, the roads become dangerous and often impassable. To fly there was an easy 40 minute flight.

Caroline came to Arnhem Land over 10 years ago. As I talked to her it was clear that it’s not the numbers and statistics that matter to her, but the relationships with the people.

“We love working with MAF as we travel out to the Homelands,” she said. “MAF staff have the same attitude and care that we do. It’s about caring for the communities in a consistent and practical way.”

MAF partners with Layhna Health to bring many flights like these out to the Homelands, providing physical help and practical support.

MAF Pilot Marijn de Zwart gets ready to fly the team home


Sharai Hutchinson, Dental Assistant, and Caroline Falconer, Dental Therapist


Baniyala Homeland

Partnering with Pioneers

Story and photos: Rebekah Somandin

MAF and Pioneers have had a partnership in Arnhem Land since 2014, but it has only been in the last year that things have really started to gain momentum. The Pioneers team has grown from one to four families, and one of the families is now based out in a remote community. Over the past year the partnership has only grown stronger.

Aerial view of the Milingimbi community

The need for discipleship
Over the years, MAF have received many requests from Yolngu believers in Arnhem Land for mentoring and discipleship. There have been so many that, alongside the constant demand for flights, our staff could not meet the growing need. In 2014 MAF invited Pioneers to work alongside them to meet this need and an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) was signed, but for almost two years Pioneers was unable to find someone willing to come to Arnhem Land.

A heart for the Yolngu
Craig and Red Fulton joined MAF in mid-2010. Craig began in Arnhem Land as a pilot, but after three years took on the Programme Manager role from 2013 – 2016. Seeing the need for discipleship and with a strong desire to spend full-time ministry with the Yolngu people, Craig eventually left his role as Programme Manager and became the Team Leader for Pioneers at the beginning of 2017.

“I remember sitting in the car park – where all of our important decisions seem to be made!” Red laughed, “And Craig said to me, why are we waiting for a new family to come to Arnhem Land to fill this role? We should do it!”

Craig and Red’s heart have always been to know Christ and to make Him known, right through from being pastors in Sydney, to flying with MAF in Arnhem Land, to joining Pioneers.

Pilot Brett Nel with Ed and Sal Hawkins from Pioneers

A synergistic partnership
Having the Fultons step sideways from MAF into Pioneers has enabled a very strong partnership to form. With a number of years’ experience in both culture and language as well as within MAF, Craig and Red were well equipped to begin this new partnership.

“I see our partnership with MAF as synergistic,” Craig said. “Our unity will lead to our enhanced realization of both of our visions. Together our mission is to see the long-term transformation of the indigenous people of Arnhem Land through Christ. The result will be far greater than the two parts working separately.”

“Our hope is to see that grow even more, as we look for ways to enhance the unity between all Christians of this area,” Craig continued. “This will, in turn, enable God to work in this land.”

MAF supports Pioneers by offering discounted flights, inviting them to join Language and Culture courses as well as MAF retreats and conferences, sharing resources and spending time together in fellowship. MAF has also developed many relationships and connections within the communities and homelands, which Pioneers are able to build directly onto.

Sal Hawkins from Pioneers with her good friends Ruth and Helen

Vision of Pioneers
The vision of Pioneers is “Yolngu discipling Yolngu”. This is a long-term goal, but they are here for the long-haul.

“All the members of our team have a long-term commitment to Arnhem Land, considering 10 years as a starting point,” Craig said. “We have realised that to make an impact in Arnhem Land, to build relationships, to see transformation, requires time. And we want to give this the time that it needs.”

Since 2017, the Pioneers team has grown from one to four families, with more in the pipeline.

Pioneering in Milingimbi
Ed and Sal Hawkins had a clear vision about working with indigenous people, and in December 2017 they moved to Milingimbi as the first community-based family for Pioneers. Sal had this to say, “We are so blessed by the foundation that MAF has built here over all these years. There is a great fondness for all the MAF families who have lived here. The community accepted us straight away and we are reaping the benefit of the trust, love and respect MAF has already earned.”

Milingimbi is close to the heart of MAF staff. Having been based there for over 40 years, MAF saw the community reach a point of struggle. The young people were constantly caught sniffing fuel and their desperation also led them to break into the MAF aircraft to steal avgas. When sniffed, it was having a disastrous effect on their health because of the lead content. After many attempts to work with the community and the elders, it became apparent that we were not going to see an end to the fuel sniffing in the near future, and the difficult decision was made to temporarily relocate our MAF family and our aircraft out of Milingimbi.

This makes us even more grateful for our partnership with Pioneers. While we are not based in Milingimbi at present, the ministry still continues with our close partners, and our pilots still regularly fly in and out of this community.

Our partnerships with organisations like Pioneers is exciting as it further empowers our vision to see physical and spiritual transformation in Arnhem Land.

The Pioneers team.

MAF’s work in Arnhem Land provides Aboriginal homeland communities with access to healthcare, education and development opportunities. In addition, MAF flights support the local church.

Visiting Gäwa

In East Arnhem Land, MAF is partnering with Gäwa Christian School to bring a full education to the remote homelands.

Story: Rebekah Somandin, Photos: Cameron Herweynen.

As our MAF plane circled over Gäwa, a small community located on the tip of Elcho Island, I couldn’t help feeling excited. Living in Arnhem Land, I’d often heard of this homeland and the wonderful Christian school based there and now I was finally going to see it for myself.

Soon after arriving we met the school Principal, Rachel Herweynen, and it didn’t take long to feel how much love and hope she has for the people in this community.

“Both ways learning”

“Having the school on the traditional land is significant,” Rachel said. “The elders have thousands of years of knowledge and skills that can only be passed on by being on their own land.”

“But they also recognize the importance of being able to navigate the “Balanda” (or non-indigenous) world, so it’s important that the teacher’s work alongside them.” Having the traditional knowledge passed on by the elders in partnership with the school makes for rich learning. The teachers are able to present concepts from the non-indigenous perspective, but using the traditional knowledge and culture. This is called “both ways learning”.

Made by God

“It is wonderful when the MAF pilots come here,” Rachel continued. “They see the people as we see them. Not as clients, but as beautiful people wonderfully made by God.”

“Apart from the practical side of getting staff in and out, the pilots are also great role models. The interaction with MAF helps the kids to dream and see opportunities. Two of our little ones even want to be co-pilots one day!”

“MAF has also shared lots of resources in local languages with us, which allows us to reach the students in their own language that speaks to their hearts,” Rachel added gratefully.

Teaching what’s important

“I am passionate about seeing the students know their identity in Christ, and to have strength and security in that,” Rachel explained. “When you know who you are in Jesus, you’re free from the limitations that systems the government and other people have set on you.”

She also explained how important it is that the children learn “Warramiri” in class, the “language of the land”. More than the skills they learn, a highlight is seeing them value their own culture and their own language. Students themselves have said, “It’s important to learn to speak Warramiri”.

Christianity and culture together

Rachel shared a story with us about some visitors who came to the school for just a few days. At the end of the trip their visitor said, “I always wondered how Christianity and culture could work together or if it was even possible. But after being here for a few days, I can see how well it can and does work.”

Rachel explained to her visitor that it’s only possible if Jesus is the centre. Lives are transformed by God and not by people’s agenda. This has allowed the partnership between the community and the school to grow and be sustained all these years, and hopefully for many more years into the future.

Daphne Dhamarrandji, a long-term Yolηu staff member, hopes for the students to one day have a job they can take pride in. “I want to see them become a doctor, pilot, teacher, mother or principal. But number one, that they can know God’s way.”


It surprised me how, after just a few short hours together in Gäwa, I felt a strong connection with this school in its community of only 10 houses. MAF’s passion and vision is the same as the Gäwa Christian School: to see isolated people transformed in Christ’s name.

What a privilege it is to be partners.


MAF is well known for flying because that is the bread and butter of the organisation. However behind the scenes is a long list of skilled people who have made sacrifices to see the vision of MAF fulfilled. These people are pilots, engineers, managers, HR personnel, office staff, builders, IT support personnel and much more. Each person in these roles has a very important place in the bigger picture and vision of MAF.

Without IT (Information Technology) support staff, MAF’s operations would come to a standstill because so much these days is build on a fully functioning and reliable IT system.

“It’s the infrastructure behind the scenes, that many are unaware off. These are the tools of the digital world that make things work and it’s a privilege to be part of a larger team that makes sure the goals of the Arnhem Land program can be achieved through Technological tools”. Nevin Urey Arnhem Land IT Support

Within the MAF the focus on Technology fits into two different categories internal IT Support and Technology Services. The Arnhem Land program is a good example of how the two of these focus areas go hand in hand. The role of the IT Support person is to help manage the phone, email, network, and hardware systems that the entire team use to complete everyday activities. This means keeping a close eye on making sure systems are updated, running, backed up and when things are broken, replacements are put in place or work around solutions are setup. In Arnhem Land it is not unknown for things to go wrong such as the Internet going offline or a power cut occurs or rodents eating through cabling. Also with the addition of the Electronic Flight Bags (EFB) to the pilot’s set of standard operating gear, this has meant an EFB administrator is required to be in place. This person works alongside the IT Support person to make sure all the iPads are up to date and reliable for use in flight. The IT Support team in both Cairns (Australia) and Ashford (UK) back up the small team in Arnhem Land by offering advanced support in all areas.

To understand the focus of Technology Services, one needs to take a step back in time to the year 2000. Within MAF worldwide a ministry called Learning Technologies (MAFLT) had started to be birthed. The first project was establishing a set of Bible Study resources for Russian pastors. Amazingly, by 2009 MAF LT operated in 18 countries, serving 46 ministries.

Early in 2010 with the introduction of Campbell Smythe (MAF Cairns – IT Support), MAFI Asia Pacific started to take on board the MAF Learning Technologies focus. Campbell was passionate about growing the ministry throughout MAF in Asia Pacific. At the same time Brett and Michelle serving in Arnhem Land saw the need for resourcing people with God’s Word in media format but didn’t have the time or man power to do so. Across in Papua New Guinea the CRMF team were also connecting with the MAFLT US model and looking into how they could use technology to expand God’s Kingdom in Papua New Guinea. (Today in 2017, Technology Services known as CRMF in PNG is flourishing)

In 2011 Peter and Tiina arrived into Arnhem Land with the encouragement by Campbell Smythe and Brett to work on a 3-month project before transitioning to PNG. This project was called Manymak Dhäwu (Good News). After three months, God had other ideas and so the Peter and Tiina stayed on and since 2011 Technology Services* has had a prominent place in Arnhem Land. (* MAFI changed the name from Learning Technologies to Technology Services in 2013)

Technology Services are those activities where MAF supports the use of technology for spreading the Gospel in the areas where MAF serves.

Stepping back into 2017, it is clear that MAF Arnhem Land program values the ministry enabled by aviation and technology services because as a team there is a strong belief that both can be used to transform communities. By applying technical understanding and skills, barriers that hinder advancement in isolated areas in the spheres of education, communication, community development and the Gospel can be removed.

To give a better idea and picture on what Technology Services has meant for a program like Arnhem Land, listed are some tools and projects that have been tried and tested in an Aboriginal Ministry context. Some have worked very well, others have not but that is what it takes these days in ministry to find the niche.

  • Mänymäk Dhäwu DVD: This original ministry resource was a picture book with 40 pictures and an audiotape to accompany it. The story was put into digital and the end result of this revised resource was a DVD with 650+ moving pictures and audio. The story was from Genesis to Revelation in Gumatj, one of the local languages. The DVD was used on outreach trips and Kids Clubs.
  • Mänymäk Dhäwu For Mobile: Not long after the DVD was produced mobile smartphones began to appear in numbers. The need was seen for the DVD to be split into 40 different media stories. The files were prepared for use on mobile and were made small enough to be bluetoothed from one mobile to another.
  • Gospel Media Stories: From initial requests from local Aboriginal believers to have more stories in local language, time was spent recording local Bible translators retelling Bible Stories. These recordings were then matched with images that depicted the story. These media files were loaded onto mobile phones and MicroSD cards.
  • Training for leaders: Requests from local Aboriginal individuals for training on how to use email, Internet and computers was time well spent.
  • MicroSD Cards: This project was birthed from a desire to do more about spreading the news at Christmas and Easter time. Appropriate resources were located and permissions obtained to use them, then multiple MicroSD cards were purchased, loaded and distributed. Today MicroSD cards remain a digital resource that many people are hungry for because it has God’s Word in a form they can listen to and understand.
  • Tablets: In 2014 with the cost of Android Tablets dramatically reducing and becoming readily available, this meant MAF was able to purchase tablets and load them with Gospel media such as Bibles, Audio, Videos and Image files. These Tablets were then distributed to leaders wanting to grow in their relationship with God. As a result tablets became a springboard for MAF staff to have closer contact with people.
  • Networking: It has been important for MAF over the years to stay connected with other mission groups working in the area of technology in missions, so MAF staff from Arnhem Land attended various gathering of likeminded techy people working in various mission groups in Australia and beyond. This was a great way to connect, learn, share, pray and be inspired.
  • Gospel Resources: DVDs, CDs, Bibles were sold out of vehicles in the back of communities which was always popular as people were hungry for resources. This demand meant that MAF needed to do something more to provide options for Gospel Resources, so the old hangar space at Gove Airport was converted into a resource shop and terminal area. Stands with DVDs, CDs, Bibles, and Technology Media are for sale and on display.
  • Resources in a Box: To make these resources more mobile for pilots travelling to the homelands, small containers were purchased and loaded with DVDs, CDs, Bibles, and Technology Media. These boxes were used on homeland outreach trips to sell resources.
  • Solar Power Players: Solar Power MP3 players are a great way to make God’s Word in audio format available. In 2017 180+ units were purchased and distributed to individuals. Each unit had a mixture of Audio Bibles, Music, Teaching and Gospel Stories in local languages. They were hugely popular and many people continue to ask for them.
  • Bible Mobile Apps: SIL brought out a tool called “Scripture App Builder” and various Bible Apps have since been created and made available on the Google Play store (Search for “AuSIL”). MAF have used this same tool to create a mobile android App for the Manymak Dhäwu series. Now people have access to the media stories more easily on their mobile phones.
  • SMS Scripture Ministry: For a few years MAF ran a Scripture SMS system. People would sign up to the SMS number and a website tools was used to distribute verses to people on a weekly basis. This was a popular service and Yolŋu people were often requesting for a service.
  • Satellite TV: Working with Life TV, a set box was donated to MAF and a dish was set up to provide Free Christian TV in the Terminal waiting room. The idea behind this project was to see if satellite TV would be off interest to other Aboriginal communities.
  • Technology Media in the Homeland: The majority of the mentioned forms of technology and media have been taken into remote homelands where they have been displayed, distributed and used. Today the challenge continues to be getting resources where they are most wanted and needed and that is in the homelands. Hence the need for planes and pilots!

It is clear from these few examples that the Technology has been able to be used as a tool to spread the Word of God in Arnhem Land. God’s Word has the potential to bring explosive transformation in the lives of individuals and communities. And so the program can say with confidence that:

IT Support & Technology Services


NOTE: To view a picture album of Technology Services images, click on this link below: