Rachel Chung was super excited to come to Australia last year to study a Masters of Public Health at the University of Melbourne. Unfortunately, she touched down two weeks before the pandemic threw everyone’s 2020 plans into disarray.
“I was like: ‘Yes! I’m going to study in this university in another country, I’m going to experience everything!’,” she says. “But COVID-19 hit, and then it was a whole pandemic and we went into lockdown.”
Low on funds and struggling to find work
Struggling to get by financially, Rachel started looking for paid employment – “casual, part-time, or full-time, anything that would help me”. But it was tough.
Despite her volunteering efforts in Melbourne, existing tertiary qualifications, and three years’ experience serving as a medical officer in rural communities in Borneo, Malaysia, not a lot of people were hiring. And due to mass pandemic job losses, competition was fierce.
Then she came across the Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health (MCWH), which offered her a job as one of its more than 50 new bilingual health educators.
Each of these positions is supported by funding from a Jobs Victoria initiative to create employment opportunities during the pandemic delivering critical health information sessions to women from migrant and refugee backgrounds in their native tongues.
Spreading the word, in multiple languages
Rachel, who is fluent in Chinese (Mandarin, Hakka/Khek), Malay/Indonesian and English, says the MCWH sessions primarily involve discussions around violence against women, women’s health, sexual health, and mental health.
“For people with migrant and refugee backgrounds, especially if they don’t have that English education from a young age, or they don’t have an exposure to English, it can be very difficult for them to understand the health system and what services are available,” she says.
“That means they don’t get the access and information they need to have a healthy life and good wellbeing – in terms of their home, mental health, emotional support, and also women’s health in general and sexual health. So, I think it’s very important to get that message out there and to do that outreach.”
It’s also much easier to engage with people when the educator not only speaks the same language, but also shares and understands their cultural background, she explains.
“There’s that sense of trust in the information we are conveying, and they are more likely to understand, rather than someone from another community saying: ‘This is what you should do’.”
Excited to be once again involved in community health
After completing the introductory training program to prepare her for this new role, Rachel is thrilled to be a part of the MCWH team.
One of her first assignments was to conduct a Zoom session in Mandarin for adult learning centres, where she provided essential information about the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccinations and how to access them.
“It does help the women, because some of them do not have a formal education and might be illiterate or health illiterate,” she says. “These sessions actually help get the information across, and also tell them how to access the services that are out there.”
With everything that went on last year, it’s deeply satisfying to be once again supporting community health and wellness, and Rachel is feeling optimistic and enthusiastic about the future.
“This is my first time doing health education in a foreign country, and it’s exciting to get that health information out there, and to see the benefit it can bring for these women and their families,” she says. “I think the whole process is very exciting.”