Shepparton News

Every community stood tall during outbreak

- Chris Hazelman ● Chris Hazelman is manager of the Ethnic Council of Shepparton and District.

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.

A LESSON FOR THE FUTURE IS THAT SOMEONE’S LANGUAGE SKILLS SHOULD NOT EXCLUDE THEM FROM IMPORTANT INFORMATIO­N . . .

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