Juanita Koeijers

Consumer Representative
October 2018
Each issue we ask someone from the alcohol and other drugs sector to share a little about their work and life.

Juanita Koeijers has recently been appointed to NDRI’s Advisory Board, and is Chair of the Alcohol and Other Drug Consumer & Community Coalition (AODCCC), the first AOD consumer body of its kind in WA.

This weekend I will... Actually look at 7 weeks of online lectures before an exam on Monday (I am definitely an on-campus learner), figure out how to chair an AGM, prepare a short presentation on the cold-face of Commonwealth data collection (MDS), catch up on gardening chores, hopefully get to yoga, eat lunch out the back on the grass, and get to the water at some point.

I wish I'd never... Thought nice guys were ‘uninteresting’. Seriously can’t believe it has taken me this long to value decency.

I'd originally planned to work... I never figured that out, which was a huge problem for me because everyone always asked me what I wanted to do with my life… I trundled off to Uni, as expected, doing Maths, Music, Italian and Politics under an Arts degree (I was very confused, obviously). Having had a history of practical classical music, I quickly dropped this unit as I couldn’t deal with the ‘pomp’ of the Uni scene (lecturers primarily) and picked up Physics. Yep Physics LOL (was always my fave).

The qualities I most value in my colleagues are... Courage and grace. The courage to have a difficult conversation, to go places both internally and externally you haven’t yet been, and the grace to hold yourself well.

I'll never forget... When I was 20 I worked at Karijini Aboriginal Corporation CDEP in Onslow, Western Australia. I ended up taking on the books, coding my own payroll software using Visual Basic and Excel (just before MYOB was released) and training the other office girls up to do my job. I had one prodigy who, strangely enough, was also called Juanita (yeah weird, especially for up there) who was so shy she couldn’t even talk to me yet she determinedly did everything I showed her. In the beginning I was unsure she even understood me but I just kept showing her and left her to it. She eventually took over, it was a payroll of over 200K per fortnight with all associated banking, payslips, records etc etc, not easy, plus all the communication across a number of remote community working projects it generated. Anyway, point of the story was her personal transformation and confidence to stand within her own community as she embraced the position. The most verbal I ever saw her was when she thanked me for what I had done when I left.

For a naïve white girl, it was a privilege to experience this culture first hand. Up until then I had no idea that people could operate from entirely different value systems. It was how my best qualities were grounded. Open mindedness and curiosity.

If I had more time, I'd... Relax!

I'm most scared of... Rats? Rats and losing the plot while presenting (I am completely paranoid that I’m going to forget what I’m talking about at any given moment).

For my next holiday... Hopefully Holland with Mum when I finish my current degree. I’ve never been and Mum hasn’t been back since she was 19.

I can't get enough of... Currently it’s aniseed. And smoked paprika. And fish (I’m a relapsed vegetarian). 

I'm really terrible at... Recognising my achievements (noted as I write this).

Career wise, I’m most proud of... It’s diversity. Example. In my late 20’s I worked for Goldfields Satellite Services installing satellite dishes, antennas and cabling from Esperance through to Newman. I was sent, by myself, to a usually two man job, 400 kms out along the trans line to install a large dish for a distance education contract (the only two storey building I had ever encountered for this contract). I could barely lift the skin (dish) yet up a ladder, two storeys, I got the bloody thing, built it, aligned it and cabled it. The boss was ridiculed initially for taking on a woman, but in the end I was personally acknowledged by the lead tradesman who preferred my work to that of the others. Part of me is still really proud of this, part of me shudders to see my prior need for approval in a ‘man’s world’ playing out!

My big hope for the drug and alcohol sector is... I have a list…

A much broader community conversation.

Claiming a truly representative space alongside and within traditional mental health and health in general. It’s upsetting that a person can be denied so many things, including avenues to treatment, due to disclosure of drug use.

Acceptance that drug use is part of our collective human experience, which has been going on since forever. The aim is not to eradicate it (that’s ridiculous), it’s to raise awareness of its realities, potential harms, potential solutions and improve accessibility to quality services when and where people need them.

The sector's biggest challenge going forward is... Stigma.

Juanita Koeijers

Juanita Koeijers has recently been appointed to NDRI’s Advisory Board as a consumer representative. Juanita has been involved in the alcohol and other drug sector in a variety of capacities including peer support, counsellor, consumer representative and advisor. She is also a third year student Naturopath at Endeavour Institute of Natural Therapies.

Juanita was a keynote speaker at this year’s Australian College of Mental Health Nurses Winter Symposium and a Panel Member at the recent launch of the Consumer Engagement Community of Practice, a Health Consumers Council / WA Primary Health Alliance initiative.

A recent major achievement has been the incorporation of an alcohol and other drug-specific consumer association, the Alcohol and Other Drug Consumer & Community Coalition, of which she is Chair. The association includes family and supporters in its membership and the word ‘community’ in the title serves to acknowledge that drug use and related harm does not occur in isolation.

Juanita’s current commitments include developing a Model of Service for Recovery Colleges in WA, continued work with State Forensic Mental Health Services (SFMHS), Community Alcohol and Drug Services (CADS) and the Social Inclusion Steering Group (formally SIARG) among others. She is a board member of Peer Based Harm Reduction WA (PBHRWA) and a member of the National Register of Mental Health Representatives (NATREG). Juanita is also a consumer representative on the DSMB for the N-ICE trial and participated in pre-trial training in Melbourne earlier this year.