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Building trust: what I’m learning about community engagement

I’m Sui, one of the Hakha Chin Bilingual Health Education Officers at Women’s Health East (WHE). Last year, I had the privilege to deliver the project Our Health. In Language., which was funded through the Outer East Primary Care Partnership’s Outer East Partnership Grants 2021-2022. As part of this project, my colleague and I ran health sessions with women from our own Chin community in Melbourne’s Outer East. The health sessions focused on different topics, with the aim of promoting gender equity and women’s sexual and reproductive health. 

There are many factors that affect our health, so I think it is very important to learn about different health topics. After conducting a co-design session with women from the community to learn which topics they were most interested in, I specifically ran my sessions on healthy relationships and family violence. These are topics that are not often talked about in a health context in the Chin community, so I was very glad and excited that they chose these topics. The other topics we covered in this project included menstrual health and menopause. 

Community members feel more comfortable approaching an organisation when they can communicate in their own language. It is vital for organisations to take time to build trust and recognition within the community, and I think this project has been essential in doing so. 

The project ran for around 10 weeks giving us time to engage with community members in their first language, which was essential to build trust. Not only was I able to speak their language, but I am also from the community, and I understand and share their culture. This helps to create a culturally safe environment, with research showing that cultural safety is a crucial component of health equity (Curtis, et al. 2019). Especially in the topics we spoke about, it was vital that I made the content culturally appropriate and accessible for them. Some of the ways I did this was by replacing complex health terms to simple language for accessibility and ensuring that the information I provided doesn’t contradict with their religious beliefs. For this very reason, towards the end of the project, community members felt that they can come to me (and WHE) for support. 

WHE staff Noami and Sui at the 2022 Chin National Day festival

If you want to work with the Chin community but aren’t sure where to start, the best way to engage is to attend their community or church events so that the organisation and our faces become familiar. They are very proud of their culture and religion so when they see other people, particularly ‘white’ Australians share or participate in these events, they feel accepted and welcomed. This in turn motivates them to open up and reach out to the broader society. 

During this project, I found that written resources are not the best for the Chin community due to literacy limitations, whereas videos or visual resources were very well received. However, I also discovered that in-language Hakha Chin resources are very scarce, whether in written or other forms. This is why roles like mine are so important – we can help to bridge the gap between community and mainstream organisations to deliver evidence-based health information. 

Lastly, the Chin community has become very familiar with Zoom during the pandemic which has become very convenient. Although we would have liked to interact with the participants face to face for the sessions, for many of them it was easier to join us on Zoom, particularly if they have children or can’t drive themselves. In this way, Zoom has addressed some of the access and equity barriers to participation that Chin women can face when trying to participate in programs and services. 

I hope to see similar projects in the future, to keep supporting and educating my community on different health topics. Everyone deserves equal opportunities to access health information. One way to achieve this is by running projects like Our Health. In Language. where non-English speaking communities can access services directly in their spoken language.

 

By Sui Cin Zah

 

References:

Curtis, E., Jones, R., Tipene-Leach, D. et al. Why cultural safety rather than cultural competency is required to achieve health equity: a literature review and recommended definition. Int J Equity Health 18, 174 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12939-019-1082-3