Bankstown Youth Development Service (BYDS) is a youth arts organisation based in Bankstown that has a long and proud history of working closely with people of all backgrounds, faiths and cultures for over 25 years. We have had a particularly strong association with Muslims across literally scores of projects.

In recent times we have helped to facilitate and support the Linked Up Program, a Muslim youth-based skills development and leadership program that has made a significant difference to the lives of many young people in the Bankstown and surrounding areas, delivered by Social worker Ola Elhassan.

Tree of Life training begins under the beautiful fig trees at the Bankstown Arts Centre

After the Christchurch terrorist attack, Ola and I got together, wondering how we could make any kind of difference to the thousands of young people from this area who were distressed by this incident and other forms of hardships.

Ola and I decided that our association with Dulwich Centre Foundation was the very best place we could direct our energies, with their focus on narrative therapy and a strong history of working closely with Muslim background people across scores of projects – all with a view to helping people develop skills to making them stronger and recognising what qualities of strength they already possess.

These past projects have included: ‘We Try Not to Take Hate into our Hearts’, the beautiful Skills Values and Story Cards and the earlier Life Saving Tips.

We thought that the The Tree of Life narrative therapy approach – developed by David Denborough and Ncazelo Ncube-Mlilo as a way of working with Southern African children who had lost parents and relatives to the 1990s HIV epidemic that swept across that region – might be the perfect vehicle.

To date, the Tree of Life approach has been used in over 20 different countries in many languages – assisting people who have experienced ‘hard times’ across the world in a dizzying array of projects. This has included the ways in which Ola Elhassan and Lobna Yassine have used it with young Muslims in Western Sydney.

After much discussion with David, Ola and members of Sydney’s Muslim Social Workers network ( A professional association of Australian Muslim Social Workers and social work students) we approached the Scanlon foundation to see if they might agree to fund the project.

It is hard to portray the sense of relief when after a couple of emails, Scanlon simply said, ‘Yes’, attesting to their place amongst foundations committed to bolstering and supporting social cohesion in Australia. It’s difficult to find the right words to describe how their support made us feel.

Using our combined contacts, we began marketing our training, organising for Lobna Yassine, Ola Elhassan and David Denborough to be available on 20-21 June to deliver one day of Tree of Life training specifically for Muslim practitioners, with the next day for general population.

Almost 50 people register for these two training days. We organised for David to fly up to Sydney and  20 June dawned sunny and cold.

We began our training with me giving a mini lecture under the giant ficcus Hillii that form such a stunning, natural backdrop to the Bankstown Arts Centre where our training took place.

Ola and Lobna led the training with ample contributions by David as required. Feedback from the participants was universally high with everyone completing their own Tree of Life poster throughout the day.

We now have an additional 40+ practitioners from schools, community organisations, individual practice and grief and bereavement service trained by three of Australia’s most highly regarded practitioners.

We look forward to hearing follow up tales of how the training is being used with people from all backgrounds who have experienced hard times, across the spectrum of arts, counselling and community development as the years go by.

We again wish to thank the Scanlon foundation for considering our project worthy of funding. We also thank David Denborough and the Dulwich centre, Ola Elhassan, Lobna Yassine, Muslim Social Workers Network and of course our many Tree of Life participants.

A true team effort!