Every community stood tall during outbreak

Chris Hazelman
Manager of Ethnic Council of Shepparton and District, Chris Hazelman, has written on the experience of the Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Community in Shepparton during the pandemic and the challenges of relieving hardship – as well as getting appropriate messages to our multicultural community. A lesson for the future is that someone’s language skills should not exclude them from important information.

For most of us the COVID-19 outbreak has passed and finally our lives are returning to whatever normal looks like; however, for many in our community the pain continues, and the memory will be of a loved one, hospitalised, intubated and placed on a ventilator in the ICU of a remote Melbourne hospital.

Families unable to visit in what are truly tragic and distressing circumstances.

Our multicultural community members will need all our support and friendship over the coming months to help them overcome a burden they carry purely by chance.

The medicos say the virus does not discriminate, which is cold comfort to a community almost exclusively impacted.

Shepparton has a unique demographic profile for a provincial Australian city and our cultural diversity is often the feature by which we are known.

In recent weeks all parts of our community have been impacted and tested by COVID and they have responded as we would expect.

It has been unprecedented for a regional city to have almost a third of its population suddenly forced into mandatory isolation with little or no time to plan for groceries and household items.

Food supply was an immediate problem and groups such as FoodShare, GV Cares, Red Cross and People Supporting People stepped up, supported by hundreds of volunteers, to ensure food was provided to those most in need.

In some communities there was anxiety about emergency food being culturally appropriate, which in the main it was, but nevertheless concerned people out of their own pockets purchased halal food to be transported to Shepparton and distributed among impacted families.

The Shepparton outbreak was a tale of two pandemic impacts — the first affecting food supply across our community and the second a medical incident almost 100 per cent impacting our multicultural community.

While various messaging may have been confusing in the mainstream community it was doubly so in the multicultural one, where poor English skills and an initial lack of translated materials created issues around accessing relief, financial support, testing requirements and understanding the tier structures and the appropriate response.

A lesson for the future is that someone’s language skills should not exclude them from important information and the opportunity to find and access the levels of support and assistance that many in the mainstream would take for granted.

The level of volunteerism in our multicultural communities was outstanding.

People who themselves were isolating used existing social media channels to directly inform their communities with the latest available information, they translated material into first languages and were a valuable community resource — in many cases becoming the link between communities and responding pandemic authorities.

In one instance volunteers using scripts prepared by the state Department of Health translated material into 10 different languages overnight and distributed the audio files across their respective communities.

Family groups and neighbours supported those isolating with food supply, and Point of Difference Studio became a major referral point for multicultural communities seeking support, whether it be food or information.

In many ways we owe those community members a debt of gratitude because their compliance with isolation rules, coming forward for testing and supporting one another significantly helped the contact tracers track down and contain this outbreak.


Jabba the Bus


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