SCARF and the SES have been working with a dozen people from refugee backgrounds to establish the first Multicultural Community Liaison Unit in the NSW State Emergency Service.
The unit made up of leaders and connectors in the refugee community has been undergoing training for the last 12 months and last Thursday received their SES uniforms. The aim of the new unit is to enhance SES outreach to newly emerging communities in the Illawarra.
The participants from a refugee background are able to engage with communities otherwise at risk of marginalisation in disaster response.
By creating a volunteer team of multilingual, multicultural community liaison officers the SES will be more readily able to connect with community members from refugee backgrounds in emergency situations such as floods, storms and bushfires.
In doing so they are able to ensure that important messages reach affected individuals and families in meaningful and culturally appropriate ways.
SCARF has supported 12 refugee entrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East who have registered as SES volunteers. During the last 12 months they have been engaging in training to become multicultural community liaison officers. The group’s participants are enjoying the opportunity for knowledge and skills-development with the SES.
As well as the chance to share ideas on effective emergency communications tailored to the needs of their respective communities.
Elizabeth Jowanie has been in Australia for 10 years and said it being able to use her language and others skills is a great opportunity.
“I decided to volunteer because I wanted to help my community. I am well connected to the Burmese community and Korean people. I speak their language as well so I will be able to translate information back to them,” she said.
“Being involved in a program like this really empowers us and gives us a chance to contribute.”.
SCARF executive officer Sherryl Reddy said working collaboratively with the SES has been a mutually empowering experience for everyone involved.
“SCARF and the SES have gained valuable insight into gaps and capabilities in outreach and emergency messaging for newly emerging communities. SES staff and volunteers have welcomed the opportunity to learn from the knowledge and experience of refugee entrants in disaster prevention and response. Participants from refugee backgrounds are gaining new skills, confidence and a sense of pride in serving their respective communities and the wider Australian community as volunteers in the SES.
NSW SES community capability officer Joshua McLaren said “this is a huge increase in our capability as a service. Emergency and disasters affect all parts of the community so for us to have this group that can tap into their part of the community on such an intimate level is a massive boost to our capability”.
“As a service we put messaging out. And we really want to know what the community is thinking and feeling. Having these guys on the ground gives us a great avenue to feed that information back up which helps us to respond and serve our community better.”
The initiative emerged from a University of Wollongong research project led by Dr Christine Eriksen and Shefali Juneja.
The project was called ‘Resilient Together: Engaging the Knowledge and Capacities of Refugees for a Disaster Resilient Illawarra’.
It recently received a high commendation in the Resilient Australia Awards