New relationship ‘ambassadors’ to prevent family violence

Posted on October 25, 2012

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Problems of resettlement, not culture:  Reeta Verma, centre, with (from left) Abraham Mamer, Shabbir Wahid , Rakesh Kawra and Asha Acuoth, from the Sudanese Australian Youth Action Group.

La Trobe University – in association with the Spectrum Migrant Resource Centre – has developed a four-week intensive training course to produce Australia’s first ‘Healthy Relationship Ambassadors’ to work with migrant and refugee communities.

The inaugural course will be trialed with Indian and South Sudanese community representatives in November.

La Trobe law lecturer Reeta Verma says such training is timely and vital in the light of 11 murder-suicide deaths among newly arrived Indian families in Melbourne in the past 18 months.

Ms Verma devised the curriculum for this extremely sensitive area of socio-cultural intervention assisted by Mr Shabbir Wahid from the University’s Centre for Dialogue.

It follows a year-long community consultation process. The cultural complexities in relationships which give rise to family violence and the impact of unhealthy relationships on families will be taught in the course based on real and hypothetical stories.

Official launch

Funded by the Federal Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, the project was launched this week by the State Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Education, Colin Brooks, MP, India’s Vice-Consulate General Rakesh Kawra, and Abraham Mamer from the African Australian Community Centre at the Brotherhood of St Laurence.

Ms Verma says the course’s first 25 graduates will work with their communities to support and educate newly arrived families in an attempt to promote changes in attitudes and behaviours that are associated with violence against women.

The course builds on the existing skills and capacities of participants while using culturally relevant approaches and learning materials.

‘We hope these ambassadors will become an important tool in preventing violence against women in their communities by encouraging a new social consciousness that it’s OK to talk about such issues in a non-judgmental way,’ Ms Verma says.

Roots of the problems

Mr Wahid, a former diplomat and trade commissioner, said some elders in the Indian community were reluctant to air issues relating to violence in relationships.

‘But it is important to go to the roots of the problems, and not sweep them under the carpet, or deal with them as isolated incidents of “case-work’” when they happen.’

Mr Mamer, from South Sudan, said ‘No culture in the world believes in violence. All want a good life and to raise their families. Family is the key to success in the Sudanese community.’

Family violence, he added, was usually attributable to problems of resettlement and not culture, especially for people who had undergone traumatic refugee experiences.

Loneliness and loss of engagement

These problems included depression, employment, housing and the dynamics of gender roles. ‘Loneliness and loss of engagement with neighbourhood are very important issues.’

All these were critical concerns, especially during the first year of migrant and refugee settlement. ‘So I am very happy to be part of this new program.’

The La Trobe-Spectrum MRC ‘Healthy Relationship’ project involves Sudanese, Somali, Iraqi (Arabic and Kurdish-speaking), and Indian communities in metropolitan Melbourne. It also includes workshops and community drama as learning aids.

It is funded as part of a 10-year Federal Government initiative to reduce violence against women and children.