15 November 2017

Hands-on program to help Defence veterans re-forge community and family ties

| Ian Bushnell
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Veteran David West at a Tharwa Valley Forge blacksmithing course. Swinging the hammer is bladesmith and instructor Adam Fromholtz. Photo: Tharwa Valley Forge.

Australian Defence Force veterans and their families who may be struggling with post-service life will be able to benefit from a free hands-on program being offered by Tharwa Valley Forge next year.

The bladesmithing school owned by Karim Haddad, who recently bought the historic Cuppacmuberlong Homestead, has been awarded a $58,000 Department of Veterans’ Affairs grant to provide courses to veterans and their family members in blacksmithing, artisan bladesmithing, bow making and archery, woodworking and woodcarving.

Mr Haddad said that since 2003, many veterans had taken courses at Tharwa Valley Forge and the experience had made a difference to their lives.

“When they come here and make something amazing with their own hands we see that they reconnect with their sense of self-worth,” he said.

‘Tharwa Valley Forge Veterans and Families Maker Program’ Manager and veteran Mark Toogood was so moved by his own experience that he approached Mr Haddad about how other veterans could be involved.

“My wife bought me a gift certificate to attend a course at Tharwa Valley Forge. I made a Japanese kitchen knife and a Finnish utility knife and the experience was phenomenal,” he said. “I’m a veteran and I thought other veterans and their families would really benefit from having the same experience. I got talking with Karim and it turned out he felt the same way.”

The result was a grant application after surveying more than 1,000 contemporary veterans.

“We’re donating a lot of resources to this program so we’re hoping that between the grant, our contributions, and donations from the public that we will be able to provide experiences to as many veterans and their families as possible,” Mr Toogood said.

Mr Haddad said the pilot program would provide 16 two-day courses for four participants at a time throughout 2018, with four in January, and the rest peppered through the year in school holidays and at other times for veterans without children.

“It’s about building a community around veterans. Not isolating them from everybody else but actually bring them back into the community,” he said.

“Very few of the grants focus on contemporary veterans, and very few involve any kind of engagement program.”

The aim was to try to develop an active interest in a hobby or something that got them out of themselves.

Mr Haddad said many veterans’ activities took them away from their families where they did something extraordinary such as walking the Kokoda Track and when they get back it was often difficult for them to relate those experiences at home.

“What we’re trying to do here is get veterans and their teenage kids to come away and do something together, and share something in those critical years when the parent-child relationship is changing, when they’re leaving the house and you want to get some sort of connection there before its too late,” he said.

Mr Haddad said the program would also be conducting extra fundraising so that it could include some shorter one-day courses for teenagers.

He said the Department was excited about the program, which is also open to serving Defence Force members, and if it was successful then it could be expanded beyond the ACT.

Veterans will be on hand to discuss the program at an information stand at the Canberra Knife Show on Sunday 3 December at Cuppacumbalong Homestead. Additional details are also available via tharwavalleyforge.com/veterans

Do you know of any other programs that help veterans to adjust to post-service life? Let us know by commenting below.

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