Fairfield,_New_South_Wales,_Australia

Working with refugee communities on overcoming stigma

Fairfield Local Drug Action Team (LDAT) is working with community and faith leaders to tackle stigma in refugee communities.

People who arrive to Australia as refugees face additional barriers with language, housing, and employment.

Fairfield City in NSW is home to one of the largest multi-cultural communities in Australia, including many recent refugees from Syria. Nearly three quarters of the population (70 per cent) speak a language other than English at home.

The LDAT wanted to better understand community problems relating to alcohol and other drug use, and what were the barriers to people seeking help if they needed it.

They worked with community and faith leaders to find out how young people and families could be supported.

“Our aim has been to get out the message that it’s ok to talk about it and seek help.”

Stigma gets in the way of conversations

Natasa Zekanovic, Community Projects & Partnerships Officer at Fairfield City Council, said that leaders from the migrant communities welcomed the opportunity to come together and talk about the issues.

“The consultation showed there was shame and stigma around the use of alcohol and other drugs in culturally diverse communities.

“Cultural and religious values can play a factor in preventing parents from talking about the issue to their kids. It’s hidden away.

“We wanted to get across that alcohol and drug use is an issue in every community and for people to see the person as a whole, rather than just a user.”

Fairfield LDAT Workshop Organisers
Fairfield LDAT workshop organisers

Community leaders taking the helm

The LDAT’s ‘Community and Religious Leaders – Creating Stronger and Connected Communities’ project aims to challenge the attitudes, beliefs and stigmas associated with alcohol and drugs.

Various sessions were held to help inform the development of a toolkit aimed at generating discussion on the topic.

It includes a series of 12 photo cards with key messaging and images addressing issues raised in consultation. These were created together with a user guide, glossary of types of drugs and a directory of support and referral services.

A two-day workshop trained community and religious leaders to use the resource kit. This knowledge helps with early prevention and intervention measures among their people.

“It was important to build the capacity of leaders as they are the most trusted and respected people in their communities. If parents are unsure how to approach an issue they go to their leaders for advice,” said Natasa.

Local service providers were also invited to the consultation and contributed information about the referral pathways available.

The initiative has now trained around 100 workers who can continue the discussion and take it back to their own services.

Words matter

Natasa said that the Alcohol and Drug Foundation provided guidance from the start to the finish, supplying the needed evidence for the project.

“In the workshops we also referred people to the Alcohol and Drug Foundation’s Power of Words and Language Matters tools, so they were equipped to challenge negative language.”

The LDAT is now looking at alcohol and other drugs in a holistic sense, incorporating mental health and youth support services.

As Natasa says, “Everything is intertwined.”

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