Arabic and Bangladeshi parents and parents-to-be are finding support and encouragement thanks to a free parenting program run by Advance Diversity Services in partnership with South Eastern Sydney Local Health District (SESLHD).
Becoming Us, created by Australian parenthood and relationship expert Elly Taylor, lays the early groundwork for teamwork parenting, and helps couples recognise their important roles as partners and not just as parents.
‘Ninety-nine per cent of my female clients arrive on spouse visas and often do not have any of their own family here,’ says ADS Community officer and Bangladeshi bicultural worker Tasneem Rashid.
‘Their spouses work and the expectation within the couple and family is that the mother should be the main parent. Young mothers at home often feel isolated and parent alone.
‘The stress of being in a different culture, navigating in a different environment, with a young baby, without family and friends support, can feel overwhelming for young mothers, who can become emotional, especially if they feel they can’t control their children.
‘Our program helps these women and their partners navigate the new systems in Australia, and introduces and connects them to services and other newcomers to build community support.’
Tasneem Rashid and Fatima Sayed from ADS, and Rubina Huq, Cross Cultural Worker for SESLHD all trained with Ms Taylor in April 2021 to become Becoming Us facilitators and have since offered sessions to communities.
Participants in ADS’s free, online Bangladeshi sessions in November included 11 women and four men representing 11 families – six pregnant women, four expecting first baby, two expecting their second (but first in Australia) and another couple with a one-week new-born baby.
The Arabic sessions in early December have also attracted participants who arrived in Australia on spouse visas and face the challenges of parenting young children.
Rubina Huq, co-facilitator for the sessions says ‘The “gold” for new parents is learning that relationships change post baby and we have to work hard at our relationship and differences. Staying connected means learning how to talk and listen to each other respectfully.
‘Also sharing personal experiences in this group, including post-natal depression and other challenges, normalises many of the difficult situations couples and families experience, and gives you the sense that you are not alone’ she added.
Ms Huq says strategies discussed in Becoming Us include self-care – a crucial component given that one in six new mothers and one in ten new dads experience post-natal depression.
Intimacy during the transition to parenthood is another sensitive topic broached.
‘In Bangladeshi culture, mum shares a bed with the newborn baby, and dad moves to another room, where he can have a peaceful sleep because he is usually the bread earner. But participants agreed that this is not always healthy as an ongoing situation, and couples don’t realise the creeping stress related to this situation.
‘In the Becoming Us sessions, attendees talked about the importance of displaying more intimacy and affection in front of baby, and how important and healthy it is to visit each other’s rooms once or twice a week.’
Parenting challenges ‘universal’
ADS community worker Fatima Sayed is excited about co-facilitating the sessions for Arabic participants in early December with Rubina Huq.
‘The women attending the workshop are all under 30 years old, mothers with young infants, who are very keen to learn useful information about parenting and who understand the importance of professional guidance.
‘Sharing experiences with first-time parents in the same situation, and with others with older children will also help ease stress and anxiety and normalise the challenges. Challenges are universal!’
Ms Sayed explained that newly arrived Arabic women are expected to be the stay-at-home parents and look after the children. And, while they often have in-laws nearby, it is not the same as having the support of their own families.
‘Many Arabic-speaking women express that when they have babies, they lose freedoms such as being able to study or learn English because there is no one to look after the children.
‘Breastfeeding and other responsibilities also make it overwhelming to schedule themselves, so they stop interacting with people, even in online sessions, becoming more isolated.’
Ms Sayed said workshop content about intimacy needed to be approached in a culturally appropriate and respectful way.
‘We don’t really talk openly about sex and intimacy especially in front of men in a group setting. The local Arabic community is connected, so people know each other. It would be disrespectful to speak about your partner in front of a group.’
Team Leader Magdaline Shenton-Kaleido said ADS had first been introduced to Ms Taylor’s parenthood program through another joint partnership with SESLHD for a Positive Parenting program for Nepalese families in 2018.
Ms Taylor had also been a guest speaker at the February meeting of St George Child and Family (C&F) interagency, chaired by Child and Family Interagency Facilitator Lisa Stephenson.
When a pilot opportunity to train community facilitators to deliver the Becoming Us program arose, ADS was keen to be involved and teamed up with long-term collaborator Helen Rogers, the SESLHD Early Parenting Program Coordinator, to roll it out.
Ms Shenton-Kaleido said, ‘Once the new facilitators received the Becoming Us materials, we had numerous planning meetings as well as peer-to-peer support meetings with other C&F interagency partners participating in the pilot, in order to share best practice and tailor our sessions to our communities and target groups.’
Ms Sayed said she loved what she’d learned and got a lot from the training.
‘One thing that stuck with me was a simple example Elly gave about having realistic expectations of your partner. She said, “Don’t expect your partner to read your mind and to know that you need a glass of water while breastfeeding. You have to ask for it!”’
Advance Diversity Services (ADS) has appointed two bilingual workers to support older people of culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds to access My Aged Care and improve their wellbeing and independence.
As a local partner of EnCOMPASS Multicultural Aged Care Connector, ADS received funding to employ the two workers, known as EnCOMPASS Connectors.
The Connectors provide specialist support to CALD seniors living in the St George area regardless of the level or complexity of their needs. They will also assist ADS to run a series of community development activities to build the seniors’ understanding of ageing, the aged care system and the supports available to them.
Wendy Huang who speaks Cantonese and Mandarin, and Hana Srour who speaks Arabic, have been appointed as ADS’s Connectors and are excited to be helping older people in their communities.
‘Wendy and Hana offer one-on-one support,’ said Jenny Tang, Team Leader for the program’s community development activities. ‘They help older people sign up to My Aged Care, guide them through the forms, advocate for them, support them to connect to aged care service providers, and assist them to change the type of support they’re receiving if this is what’s needed.
‘We know CALD older people in our area have been struggling to understand the aged care system and to find the right support. Happily, our EnCOMPASS Connectors will make this much easier.’
‘They have begun work – and can take referrals right now,’ she said, ‘even as we speak!’
Aged Care Manager for ADS, Dimi Vourliotis – who will manage casework activities for the program – said people looking for support would be given access to all the information available so they could make their own choices.
‘EnCOMPASS Connectors are unbiased. They will refer older people to the aged care services that will best meet their needs and that they, the consumer, have chosen.’
Ms Tang said the capacity-building aspect of the EnCOMPASS project was also important.
‘We’ll run information sessions about aged care services and build a network of local community leaders, such as GPs, faith leaders, teachers and so forth, who can refer older people to our program and who will eventually be able to provide basic information to older people about My Aged Care as well.’
The network, to be known as the Aged Care Support Network (ACSN), would meet quarterly, she said, and should be up and running by the end of 2021.
‘Our aim with the EnCOMPASS program is to find and offer solutions that address the challenges and barriers faced by older people from CALD backgrounds when navigating the aged care system.
‘We really want to empower CALD seniors – so they feel confident, cared for and calm about their lives and health.’
The EnCOMPASS program is funded by the Federal Department of Health, through FECCA – Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Council Australia. The program is Australia wide. ADS is a local partner in the St George region, together with Ethnic Community Services Cooperative.
For support or more information, please contact: Hana, email@example.com (Arabic) – 0413 907 379 Wendy, firstname.lastname@example.org (Chinese) – 0466 638 224
Between July 19 and August 15, Advance Diversity Services (ADS) staff targeted more than 1500 COVID-19 health messages to ensure people in CALD communities were well-informed about the dangers of the coronavirus and the importance of vaccination.
Their work was part of a short term project funded by the Settlement Council of Australia (SCoA) aimed to increase vaccine uptake across Greater Sydney, including the Blue Mountains, Central Coast, and Wollongong, in light of the current outbreak of COVID-19.
ADS staff across the Settlement and Community Services and Aged Care divisions were engaged in additional communications with clients via phone calls, social media applications including WeChat, LINE, Viber, WhatApp and Facebook. The additional communiques were intended to increase access to accurate and reliable information about the current COVID-19 vaccine, how to access the vaccine, and other health information regarding COVID-19.
As of August 15, ADS staff reported more than 500 calls with individual clients, over 500 emails sent as well as over 200 WhatsApp messages. Social media engagement included more than 300 Facebook posts. Overall, more than 25 language groups were provided with information across Greater Sydney.
Information shared included COVID-19 vaccination sessions, locations of vaccinations such as hubs and GPs, accessing support payments, stay at home orders and translated guidelines.
‘With the highly transmissible Delta variant gaining a foothold across Greater Sydney, it was a crucial time to be communicating with our CALD clients and others about how to protect themselves against the virus,’ said Anthony Scerri, ADS’s Manager for Settlement and Community Services.
‘The SCoA funding enabled us to be very focused; urging people to get vaccinated and to encourage others to play their part in stopping the spread.’
After the project ended, ADS staff continued to communicate with people in CALD communities to help keep them safe, Mr Scerri said.
For example, ADS’s Nepalese community worker Rishi Acharya and Arabic community worker Fatima Sayed were part of a recent in-language video project with Georges River Council to urge people to get vaccinated.
ADS’s Bangla community worker Tasneem Rashid also recently worked with the Public Health Unit and the Multicultural Health Service in South Eastern Sydney Local Health District to offer a session for the Bangla community to give up-to-date accurate medical information in Bangla about the vaccines.
‘Our staff are going the extra mile to assist the refugees, migrants and elderly people who use our services to protect themselves and their families,’ Mr Scerri said. ‘We’re also proud to be collaborating with health services, local councils and peak bodies like SCoA to ensure messages about the pandemic reach their intended audiences.’
Chinese traditional dancing sessions, meditation and mindfulness classes, and bilingual information forums are just some of the activities that will soon be enjoyed by socially isolated seniors from Chinese backgrounds in the Sutherland Shire thanks to Advance Diversity Services (ADS) following a successful application to ClubGRANTS.
Funded by Taren Point Bowling and Recreation Club, the ADS project aims to build social connections and reduce isolation. The new group will be coordinated by Chinese-speaking ADS staff member, Ronnie Wang, with the support of Chinese community volunteers.
Ms Wang said there was a significant representation of people from Chinese backgrounds living in the Sutherland Shire area, with 2016 Census data for the shire indicating Mandarin is the second largest language spoken outside of the English language, followed by Cantonese.
‘Our Cantonese- and Mandarin-speaking staff, who work closely with Chinese clients and communities in the St George and Sutherland Shire areas, identified the need for a local social support group for older Chinese people in the Sutherland Shire.
‘The Chinese Community Reference Group and Chinese Services Network convened by ADS also highlighted the lack of culturally specific and language-accessible social support activities and engagement for Chinese people in the area.’
ADS’s new group would bridge this gap, Ms Wang said, enabling seniors to experience meaningful social connections with others in the group and to build a sense of belonging and engagement with their local communities.
Group sessions would involve recreational and health-based activities, including traditional dancing, wellbeing activities, and bilingual education sessions presented by health workers on subjects like falls prevention, healthy eating and elder abuse. Funds would be used to pay hall hire, group activity costs, catering, and staff time.
‘CALD seniors are particularly vulnerable to social isolation due to language and cultural barriers, stigma, social-economic disadvantage, and low rates of service access,’ Ms Wang said.
‘We also know isolation can have a negative impact on older people’s health – heightening their risk of cardiovascular, autoimmune, and neurocognitive illnesses, and increasing the likelihood of depression and anxiety.
‘We want our seniors to be happy and healthy and to find fun and friendship as they connect with and contribute to the community. This project will help us to achieve this.’
Due to the COVID-19 lockdown in NSW, group sessions will occur online until they can be held face-to-face. For more information, contact Ronnie Wang on (02) 9597 5455 or email@example.com (working days are Wednesdays and Thursdays).
Caption: Seniors from Chinese backgrounds living in the Sutherland Shire will be able to enjoy dancing, meditation, educational seminars and more at a new group being established by ADS.
Advance Diversity Services (ADS) staff and volunteers dressed in PURPLE clothes and accessories to support Wear It Purple Day (WIPD) on August 27.
‘Despite being in lockdown in Sydney, we wanted to celebrate diversity and young people from the Rainbow community,’ said Corporate Services Manager, Michael Cheung. ‘We were keen to do this because we know 75 per cent of LGBTIQA+ youth experience some form of discrimination due to the lack of acceptance of their sexuality or gender identity.’
Staff and volunteers took selfies or got household members to snap them in their purple finery, he said, which was a public affirmation of WIPD’s aims and a sign they want Rainbow young people to feel safe and supported when using ADS services.
‘WIPD is also a great way to show we really mean what we say in our inclusivity statement – that all are welcome,’ said Mr Cheung.
Wear It Purple was founded in 2010 in response to young people taking their own lives after experiencing bullying and harassment. LGBTIQA+ people have the right to express themselves in public without fear.
In Australia, 11.2 per cent of young people identify as attracted to the same sex. However, when compared to the general population, LGBTIQA+ people are far more likely to have thoughts of suicide, or attempt suicide in their lifetime.
‘We wore purple for WIPD to send a strong message to young Rainbow people that we support them and that ADS is a safe place where they can find acceptance and belonging,’ Mr Cheung said.
‘Although many ADS staff are working from home, we are still available to talk with LGBTQ+ young people to help them find the support they need to handle any difficulties they’re facing.’
If you are an LGBTIQA+ young person who needs support please call 9597 5455. To find groups and services across Sydney see our LGBTIQA+ Support Directory.
Advance Diversity Services (ADS) joins its partner organisations and other humanitarian organisations, human rights groups and Afghan communities in Australia in urging the federal government to consider a special intake of Afghan refugees fleeing violence from the Taliban.
‘Our heartfelt sadness, solidarity and support goes out to the people of Afghanistan, and to our staff and clients who are deeply affected due to the devastating situation in their homeland,’ said CEO of ADS Antoinette Chow.
‘We urge the Australian government to grant refugee and humanitarian visas to people from Afghanistan and also to those who are already in Australia on temporary visas and/or in immigration and community detention centres.’
Ms Chow said she welcomed the recent announcement by Immigration Minister Alex Hawke confirming the extension of temporary visas for people from Afghanistan in Australia but Australia needed to step up its support and protection for people at grave risk.
She said ADS adds its voice to the calls of other refugee and humanitarian organisations for the Australian Government to offer urgent practical assistance, including, as the petition on Change.org says, to:
• Expedite bringing Afghan nationals who worked with the Australian mission in Afghanistan safely into Australia.
• Provide permanent visas to protection applicants already in Australia, particularly members of ethnic and religious minority groups.
• Desist from sending Afghan asylum seekers and refugees back to danger, as per Australia’s non-refoulment obligations.
• Create a temporary compelling emergency visa to provide temporary protection to at-risk groups (e.g., journalists, human rights workers, and women civil society activists), until the situation in Afghanistan improves.
• Increase humanitarian intake for Afghan refugees, particularly targeted groups including journalists, human rights activists, members of religious and ethnic minority groups and the LGBTI community.
Ms Chow emphasised urgency in extending humanitarian support to women and people from multiple marginalised communities including artists, artisans, scholars and writers, particularly from the Hazara minority group, LGBTQIA+ identities and people with disability whose lives and creative expression are at risk under an oppressive Taliban regime.
A joint letter signed by more than 300 organisations and sent to all Parliamentarians on August 18 called on the Australian Government to urgently take practical supportive steps, including offering additional refugee resettlement places for Afghan refugees immediately, as the Australian Government did in 2015 with 12,000 additional places for Syrian and Iraqi refugees and immediately increasing Australian aid to the region.
‘ADS supports these calls because we believe Australia has a moral duty toward the Afghan people. We believe Australia should commit to an additional humanitarian intake of at least 20,000 prioritising the most vulnerable persecuted Afghans.’
ADS offers settlement assistance and other services to migrants and refugees seeking support, and encourages any newly arrived person from Afghanistan clients in the St George and Sutherland Shire areas to contact its Settlement and Community Services team on 9597 5455.
‘We are here to give support to people from Afghanistan – both to individuals and families uprooted from their homes and to the diaspora living in Australia. Our thoughts and compassion are with you during this disturbing and difficult time,’ Ms Chow said.
Other help available
STARTTS offers counselling and community support services to people who have been affected by torture and trauma. Members of the Afghan community who would benefit from STARTTS support are encouraged to refer themselves or family members to STARTTS.
If you wish to support someone to apply for a humanitarian visa to Australia can call the Department of Home Affairs’ Global Service Centre – 131 881 or outside Australia +61 2 6196 0196 (Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm local time).
For legal advice about supporting or sponsoring family in Afghanistan (or outside Afghanistan), contact Refugee Service by sending an email – firstname.lastname@example.org or call 8713 6725.
(Due to high demand you may need to wait a week or so before Legal Aid can get back to you.)
If you’re living in Australia and impacted by the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan and feeling depressed and/or anxious, please contact the following support services: