The ‘Born in One Country, Dying in Another – Power of Story’ seminar held on Wednesday 13 September, was a showcase of stories from the Chinese and Indian communities with other community leaders and GriefLine volunteers.
The speakers provided insight into their experiences in the community, the challenges in both obtaining work and settling into a new community and culture. Some of the barriers to successful adjustment included lack of recognition of overseas qualifications, language barriers for those from non-English speaking backgrounds and various cultural and social differences. Despite all the challenges faced and seen in their lives, it was pleasing to see all the speakers being committed to Australia, the country they call home.
Among those present were Nick Staikos MP, Member for Bentleigh, Inga Peulich – Shadow Minister for Multicultural Affairs & Scrutiny of Government and also member of the Victorian Legislative Council, representatives from the Cancer Council, Eastern Palliative Care, COTA, Glen Eira Councillor Nina Taylor, Kingston Councillor George Hua, SBS radio, Centre for Holistic Health, Victorian Multicultural Commission, Friends of the Children’s Foundation and National Australian Chinese Women’s Association.
The seminar provided an immersive experience for all attending, especially the GriefLine staff and volunteers, who found the information and stories helpful in their work, dealing with loss and grief through the telephone helpline, online counselling, and other programs.
Susan Mathew, GriefLine’s Children and Family Counsellor, provided a seamless program of eminent speakers as Master of Ceremonies. Susan, in sharing an anecdote to highlight cultural differences, talked about her kids’ cricket club, where the president pointed to the “change in demographics” as the reason for lack of engagement of parents in club activities.
According to Susan Mathew, “change in demographics” was the politically correct version of “increase in people from the Indian subcontinent”, while identifying that the concept of volunteering is not prevalent in her own Indian community. This shared input helped the club officials find ways to improve engagement of the members.
Nick Staikos MP opened the seminar on behalf of the Minister for Multicultural Affairs the Hon Robin Scott MP. Nick Staikos spoke from his personal experience of working alongside GriefLine on various issues. The talk reflected his experiences as a son of migrant parents.
Dorothy Yiu OAM referred to her long career as a social worker and her founding of the Chinese Cancer Society of Victoria. She presented her client issues – some of them included the loneliness not acknowledged by social workers, the stigma and taboo about the topics of cancer, death and dying and the misunderstanding of “hospice” and “palliative care” among her community members. Dorothy highlighted the Chinese community’s views towards services like counselling as a “waste of time and that talking cannot bring back the dead!”.
May Hu OAM worked as an interpreter and translator here in Melbourne and talked about Chinese people thinking of China as home even if they had lived in Australia for a long time. She talked about 100 percent hard work as the key ingredient to a successful life as a migrant.
Inga Peulich, a member of the Victorian Legislative Council, gave a reasoned and personal view of the upcoming vote in the Victorian Parliament about legalising euthanasia. She concluded that for all the safeguards that may be provided to decision makers about granting the final wishes of applicants, even if one mistake was made in termination, then that was one life too many that will be lost.
Manjula O’Connor talked about her practise as a psychiatrist and the recent focus on women’s mental health issues. She moved to Australia from India in the early 1970s. She spoke warmly about her role in representing the Indian community as a specialist in both medical and community practice, engagement with the community members and her commitment to life-learning in both her profession and justice practices. She promoted her efforts with her committee for the push to address dowry problems for Indian women in the community that have led to domestic violence and even death for some women.
A panel of speakers concluded the evening, with each presenting their own stories about migrating to Australia and now considering themselves Australian with their own cultural identity. All speakers demonstrated thoughtful approaches to telling their stories in migration and acceptance of Australia as their new home. Their stories were received enthusiastically by the audience.
This part of the seminar was made stimulating, thought provoking & engaging by the moderator Helene. Helene Strawbridge an organisational psychologist & consultant in her own right has been an active supporter of GriefLine since 1995. The combination of psychology practice, interest in community welfare & support for those experiencing loss & grief – offers one profile of a volunteer that enhances GriefLine’s reputation in this niche community based service.
The panellists were:
Manpreet Kaur Singh, a multi-award winning journalist and broadcaster, addressed the problems of loneliness that many new migrants experience. She was optimistic about the role the Indian community that call themselves Indian Australians have and highlighted that the Punjabi speakers represent the sixth most common language in the country now.
George Hua, Councillor from Kingston Council, spoke of his moving to Australia as a student and within 10 years has developed different businesses. His work at the Council includes his interest in developing the diverse community with opportunities for thriving at work and within their families. He lives with his mother, a widow, who joined him in Australia after his father’s death. Living with parents and taking care of them during their later years is common in the Chinese community. No matter how old you are, whether you are a councillor or a successful businessman, his mother still worries about what he eats and how much sleep he gets.
Dolly Huang, PhD in social work, discussed her social work particularly at the Centre for Holistic Health. Coming to Australia for study and then staying for more study, she attracted her Taiwanese boyfriend, now her husband, to join her here. Her work in cross-cultural practice encourages her to apply her own transition to a new culture in working with her clients managing their own transitions. She spoke about the conflicts in hospital policies and client’s cultural needs as a major challenge experienced by social workers. Dolly also stressed that the Chinese community itself is diverse coming from different backgrounds such as Malaysian Chinese, Vietnamese Chinese, and cautions against stereotyping.
Hao Wu came to Australia as a student in the mid-2000s. As part of his studies he came to GriefLine as a volunteer. He spoke enthusiastically of his welcome to the work and his learning of supporting diverse communities. He noted that during his studies he worked with mostly other Chinese students, so his work now at the Red Cross enhances his understanding of diverse communities.