A female-led community health education program kicked off at St Paul’s Lutheran Church on Thursday 8 April, in a bid to improve health literacy among Shepparton’s diverse communities. Wise Well Women, a joint program convened by Lorna Gillespie and Christine Nunn, will assist 12 refugee and migrant women to provide a bridge between the health system and their respective communities.
Ms Gillespie said it was an ‘extremely costly’ gap — leading to higher hospital admissions, lower participation in the health system and increased healthcare costs and mortality. This is exacerbated by language and literacy barriers, culturally unresponsive services, lifestyle upheavals . . . and differing cultural perceptions of health abilities, Ms Gillespie said.
Through Wise Well Women, the participants will gain skills in the fields of sexual and mental health, safety and wellbeing and the prevention of family violence — while also addressing the intersectional and gendered aspects of the health system.
They’ll provide an understanding of services and where to source assistance and advice for health, safety and legal issues,’’ Ms Gillespie said. The educators use their cultural skills and knowledge to negotiate and communicate between communities and organisations and services … to build connections.
Ms Gillespie said currently, local health and community service organisations hoping to use a qualified worker to deliver health literacy in languages other than English were limited to the Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health workers.
‘These workers provide quality topical health literacy information; however, have limited knowledge of our local health and community service environment or connection to our refugee and migrant communities,’ she said. ‘Building a local team, trained by local professionals, will better support our refugee and migrant communities and local health and community services.’
Each woman is currently employed in the health and community services field, or hopes to receive training and education to support the community in the health sector.
Participant Sujeevika Kumuduni said since migrating to Shepparton from Sri Lanka eight years ago, she had wanted to put her health degree to work.‘This is a really good program for the Shepparton community — health is very important,’ she said. ‘In this country, we’re very multicultural people, and we don’t know much about health literacy or where to go — who to talk to. I think after this we can guide people, so I’m really excited to participate.’
Agoness Kuol joined the program with a background in midwifery in Sudan. Arriving in Australia 20 years ago, Ms Kuol knew no English beyond ‘‘yes’’ and ‘‘hi’’. Now, she wants to continue to foster her education so she can assist in the delivery of babies back at home, and help her community.
‘I need to learn more, to research more about health in education — especially for women and children,’ she said. ‘I love to learn, because if you know more, you can help others.’
The project is a partnership between Greater Shepparton Foundation, Upotipotpon Foundation, Ethnic Council of Shepparton and District, Project Partnerships, Women’s Health Goulburn North East and local health and community service agencies.