Case Study – Elders from Chin and Karen communities
A new respect
In 2013, the Foundation House Capacity Building Team has had a strong focus on working with and supporting elders from Chin and Karen communities. As Elders they had played leadership roles within their communities prior to arrival in Australia, but resettlement in a new country had left them feeling a loss of role and status. Together with the lack of employment opportunities for older people, this made them vulnerable to depression and a loss of hope.
In response to these needs, identified through individual case work, groups were established to support older community members who were feeling isolated and disconnected from the community in a new and very different country.
The Karen Elders and Ex- Combatants Group is a mixed group of twenty-four older Karen, who share a history of involvement in the struggle for freedom in Karen State in Burma. They meet monthly, supported by the Karen Community Liaison Workers, Chitlu Wyn and Reginald Shwe, and CaB Team Co-Ordinator, Susie Strehlow. Members come from diverse suburbs and reflect the diverse religious affiliations of the community.
The group has been involved in establishing its own direction and priorities. A strong focus has been on sharing the stories and histories of individual group members, and a sub-working group has identified this as a primary project for the group in the future. This sub-group aims to document the individual stories and the history group members played a part in. The group has also focused on learning about opportunities to undertake volunteer work and been linked to multiple local and council services, as well as having a focus on health and the impact of trauma.
The Chin Elders Group bring together approximately sixteen male Elders from across the very diverse Chin community –reflecting the seven different Chin dialects spoken, and the different religious denominations to which members are affiliated. It is the only opportunity members have to communicate with each other across these groups.
Like the Karen, the group has had a strong focus on exploring opportunities for volunteering, and been linked to Brimbank Council, with members successfully achieving volunteer positions. Further linking to local services has included the Men’s Shed, the local community garden, as well as supporting them to access local recreational opportunities such as swimming and lawn bowls. The group has also chosen to focus on a sharing of their stories, which has been a powerful tool for building connection, trust and an acknowledgement of the past and the important role they played in their troubled country.
This group has been facilitated by Community Liaison Workers, Andrew Kalon and Thomas Mung, together with Team Co-Ordinator, Susie Strehlow