The WRAP #14 : Healthy Lives, Healthy Futures, Bilingual health education and 60 seconds with Mila Robles

September has brought us many new things, new season, new government, new expectations for the future. Spring is typically a time when everything is young and fresh, but being young and fresh is not always what it’s cracked up to be.

Take youth for example … not everyone would do it again if they could. Or being a new arrival … it is not easy to start again, new language, new ways of doing things.

But what can be amazing about being young and fresh is the opportunity! This WRAP we want to talk about making sure that young migrant and refugees have every chance to access the opportunities, making sure that bilingual health education is taken seriously and then we’re spending 60 seconds with Mila Robles.

Until next time,
The WRAP Team

Healthy Lives Healthy Futures

binge 1

‘Healthy Lives, Healthy Futures: alcohol education for young people’ is a short animation about the dangers of binge drinking put together for MCWH and Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre.
Watch it here!

Youth: it’s the best time of your life.  But is this an accurate aphorism for today’s youth?  They may be considered the most plugged-in and tech-savvy, but today’s youth are more likely than previous generations to be overweight or obese and Australia’s youth unemployment rate is at its post-GFC highest (17% and as high as 40% in the most disadvantaged suburbs). If you thought being on the $35-a-day Newstart allowance was dire, for young jobseekers the Youth Allowance dictates you get by on $29 a day.  And even if you’re lucky enough to finish a university education, you can expect to begin your young adult life with an average HECS debt of $15,000.

For the most part, however, keeping healthy, getting a good education and securing a well-paid job are just things parents nag their children about.  When you’re young, you’re too preoccupied conforming to a whole range of ideals: good looks; the right clothes; cool mobile; the in-crowd; and gaining social media popularity.  In the age of the 24-hour news cycle where the latest trend can be considered ‘yesterday’ today, it’s certainly no easy feat. If you’re from an immigrant and refugee background, trying to keep up with your peer group is not the only challenge.

As any first or second generation migrant child will attest, your growing-up years are at the mercy of your family and your culture (sometimes, it feels like your culture is your family).  Negotiations with parents about curfews, sleep-overs, sexuality, gender roles, music-listening and television-viewing are always at risk of being reduced to parental proclamations of ‘us’ and ‘them’.  Especially for those who are newly arrived, young people are still trying, literally, to work out where they fit in the world.  The constant juggling required to live up to the ideals dictated by peer groups and the mass media in relation to parents’ cultural expectations can exacerbate young people’s feelings of exclusion and isolation.  Financial problems and dislocation from the community can also place additional strain on many immigrant and refugee youth who are living in Australia without parents or guardians.

These specific issues present challenges and opportunities for the education and promotion of health and wellbeing amongst young people from immigrant and refugee backgrounds.  Individuals from immigrant and refugee communities of all ages struggle to access accurate and culturally relevant information and resources about relevant youth issues such as cyber-bullying, healthy body image, and alcohol-related harms.  That’s why multifaceted and flexible approaches are required to improve the health literacy of young people from immigrant and refugee backgrounds.  It’s also essential that the approach explicitly acknowledges the ways in which young people need to deal with various and competing forms of gendered and cultural expectations.

Generational arguments are often defined by stereotypes and, in the case of Gen Y, they have often been typecast as either selfish narcissists or selfless revolutionaries.  Of course, as with all generalisations, the truth is often found somewhere in-between.  Moving beyond the stereotypes to meaningfully engage with young people is the real challenge for health educators.

The aptly-named Healthy Living, Healthy Futures Project conducted by MCWH and Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre is rising to the challenge. Budding health revolutionaries can find out more about the project here or watch our fantastic new animation about the dangers of binge drinking here.

Bilingual health education: not just about language

2013 is the 35th anniversary of MCWH's bilingual education program, reaching migrant and refugee women all over Australia.

2013 is the 35th anniversary of MCWH’s bilingual education program, reaching migrant and refugee women all over Australia.

If you’ve ever grappled with using youth-speak and text-speak in everyday language, then you might just have an inkling of what it’s like to be a linguistic outsider.  Kevin Rudd aside, most people over the age of 30 don’t feel comfortable using a language clearly not intended for them.  This is how it should be.  All languages, including English, are bound up with culture. How we choose to communicate, whether by slang, sign-language or semaphore, demonstrates explicit membership to a particular community.

Bilingual health education is a bit like another language, in the sense that most monolingual/English-speaking people think they know what it is but don’t really understand or use it.  Bilingual education is often confused and conflated with interpreting and translating, especially by those who don’t have a personal need for it.  To be sure, it is about delivering information in another language, but it’s a lot more than that.

Although bilingual health education meets a practical need in addressing language barriers, it should also been seen as a right and therefore provided as a viable choice.  There are, for example, many immigrant and refugee women who might feel confident conversing in English but there are moments when English—to use a decidedly English phrase—just doesn’t cut it.  Communicating in a language you’re most comfortable with not only addresses the nuances and subtleties present in your native language, but it also provides a way of communicating concepts for which there is no equivalent in English (just consider the 84 words and phrases here).  For example, did you know there is a word in Tagalog (the main Filipino dialect) – ‘gigil’ – that describes the urge to pinch or squeeze something that is unbearably cute?

Another misconception about bilingual health education is that it’s somehow enough to speak the same language, and to share similar characteristics with the relevant community to be a good educator—that there will automatically be some ‘inbuilt’ or natural knowledge about effective ways of delivering information.  We would never think of applying this logic to the white, English-speaking health education workforce, so why does it persist?  As with the broader health services, bilingual health education requires a trained workforce.  A gendered and culturally appropriate approach to bilingual health education means that not everyone can do it: bilingual health educators are not ‘just interpreters’, they are skilled professionals who draw on their own experiences of living within a culture but they also require on-going training in health-related topics including facilitation skills and evaluation. Many women from migrant communities experience their culture differently to men in that culture, to the extent that culturally appropriate education must always consider gender if it is to be truly effective.

As feminists, we continue to argue long and hard about women’s right to exercise control over her body.  If you’re an immigrant or refugee woman, this principle should also extend to the right to control how you receive health information: preferred language as well as the who, how, when and where of information delivery.  To see bilingual health education as solely a matter of language, would devalue the significant role it plays in providing immigrant and refugee women the opportunity to discuss and make informed decisions about their health and wellbeing.

60 seconds with Mila Robles


Photographer and mother-to-be

What are you enjoying doing at the moment?
I have just moved and I am enjoying discovering my new neighbourhood: East Brunswick. So many new places and I have CERES around the corner.

If you were a super-heroine, what powers would you like to have? [Or if you had a magic wand, what would you use it for?]
Not interested in physical strength powers, but mind control would be great!

What talent would you most like to possess?
Coming from a family of writers and journalists; I would have loved to be able to write. Instead I just love to read.

If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?
I really like being a photographer; but my true love would be to be specifically a travel photographer, without having to worry about post processing in the computer, just shooting and travelling around the world.

What would you work for instead of money?
I would work for interesting projects, organisations or people I want to help, and ideals I believe in; yes I do a lot of rewarding jobs that don’t pay the bills but they make me happy.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone new to Australian culture, what would it be?
Things will be hard, it will take time for people to understand you and you will need time to understand everything. But don’t think you need to change, yes there is a lot you can learn from a society like this, but there is also a lot you can bring to make it better.

What’s your favourite word in the English language? Why?
Hope is a beautiful word

What’s the most memorable meal you’ve ever eaten?
Being so far from my family I really cherish having people around to share food. It is not about the food but more about the company.

If you could invite anyone (dead or living) to dinner tonight, who would it be?
I would love to have my grand parents around once more, show them who I have become and see what they think.

Your most cherished memory?
I don’t think I have one special moment, there are so many. I guess I really cherish my childhood in general as I keep talking about it all the time. Also travel memories, they just make me smile and want to grab my backpack once again.

Name a book or film that changed your life?
There is not one specific, but I was thinking about the books that my father left next to my bedside table when I was a child. He did a good job grabbing my attention and making me love reading.

What are you reading right now? (e.g. blogs, books, magazines, or anything else!)
I went to South America at the beginning of the year, so I am enjoying reading the stash of books in Spanish I brought with me.

Is there a favourite cultural tradition that you love to follow?
I come from a very traditional and religious society, so I have tried not to follow any of the traditions that were imposed for years on me. I am trying to make my own traditions.

What does multiculturalism mean to you?
Multiculturalism is now, all around in our lives. We all should embrace it.

Do you think Australia is multicultural?
Yes. I really believe that Australia is an amazing country thanks to all the cultures that are here, the diversity has made us bigger and better. It is sad that this is not always recognised.

Finish this sentence: “We need feminism because…”
…I want my daughter to have exactly the same options, expectations and opportunities as my son. And also I want my son to have exactly the same options, expectations and opportunities as my daughter. And I mean son and daughter as every child in the world.