In response to the pandemic, the Ministerial Advisory Council on Ageing launched a grants program called Combatting Social Isolation for Seniors during COVID-19. This is the first of a three-part panel series showcasing how older people from Aboriginal and multicultural communities found support and connection during the pandemic.
A simple phone call or care package can go a long way in showing someone that they’re not alone in the world. That’s what many communities across NSW were able to do for older people during the fear and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In this panel, we talk to Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council and the Liverpool Women’s Health Centre about how they’ve supported older people in their communities.
Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council
“Like the oldest surviving culture in the world, we come with resilience,” says Melissa Williams, CEO of Gangdangara Local Aboriginal Land Council.
As cases began spreading in NSW, the Gangdangara Local Aboriginal Land Council quickly responded to keep their members and community safe and informed.
This includes sending letters, making phone calls, using social media to get in touch with members of the community and offering transport and health services to the Elders who need them. The team deliver care packages and food packages, which often means stopping to have a chat.
“A lot of our Elders, they don’t have anyone. The joy on their faces when our team went out to deliver those care packages – ‘Wow, I’m not forgotten. Someone actually cares,’” says Melissa.
It’s no small number of older people that the team at Gandangara are supporting.
“We are situated across six local government areas, from Bankstown right out to Sutherland Shire,” Melissa explains.
“What we’ve shown to the Aboriginal community and the broader community is that we have a community that is absolutely responsible. And they showed that responsibility and in turn we got low transmissions in the middle of being in a hotspot.”
“There’s unity in community,” says Melissa.
“We’re all about creating connections and making sure that people feel like they belong and that they thrive when they experience our service. No Aunt and Uncle is alone. They’ve got a place to go to, or for us to visit them.”
Checking In On Our Aunties
Another program that helps make sure older people feel like they aren’t alone is Checking In On Our Aunties: Keeping Mob Connected, run by the Liverpool Women’s Health Centre. Since the pandemic, the centre’s Koori-specific worker, Sandy, is on the phone checking in on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women over the age of 55.
“It’s about checking up, seeing how you’re going, how’s your week going,” says Sandy. “Just having a yarn with somebody. Just having a chat.”
For Aunty Liz, who is the guardian of her 10-year-old grandson and managing her health issues, Sandy’s phone calls helped her through a period when her hands needed time to rest and heal.
That’s how Sandy came up with the idea of getting Aunty Liz a voice-activated home assistant so she could keep doing the things she loved, like listening to music and stories.
“Everybody has different needs. If Aunty Liz didn’t have the internet, Hey Google would be useless.”
Sandy was able to build rapport and learn about the individual interests and needs of women in the community.
“Another woman I asked too, about craft. She has a vision impairment. So let’s get a magnifying glass on a stand so you can do some craft,” says Sandy.
“It’s about having those conversations and what’s going to make your life a bit easier during COVID.”
Sandy’s regular phone calls are an encouraging presence to help her Aunties stay positive. For the women receiving these calls, these connections were significant to their sense of wellbeing and community.
“It gave us more power within ourselves,” says Aunty Liz. “It’s a sisterhood. It’s about us supporting each other. It’s knowing that we’re not out there on our own.”