A story about survival by MCWH staff member Ozana Bozic

RoadsFirst published in ISSUE No 25  – WOMEN’S  HEALTH  LODDON MALLEE NEWS JOURNAL on 29 November 2007


This story reveals just some of the challenges that many immigrant and refugee women experience from the time of leaving their homeland to their settlement in Australia. It is also a testimony derived from our own experiences and the experiences of other women that we have been privileged to know. Finally, it is a tribute to the strength of immigrant and refugee women.

We travel often, sometimes not even thinking about the road taking us from one destination to another. Roads to work, roads to shops, roads to a friend or road to a holiday. As it turned out for me, my life changed and I will always remember two roads and two routes, which changed my life in every possible way.

I had to leave my homeland because civil war started in 1992. The only way out was a road traveled in haste, through the mountain region, a road traveled with love and determination that we had to live and go on. The road was symbolically named – The Salvation road.

For people who decided not to flee, but to stay, despite constant shelling and fighting, food was their salvation. For anyone who was lucky to have a chance to escape and seek refuge somewhere else, the road was a salvation.

I found myself on the road to salvation together with my children, being part of the lucky ones; happy to be among lucky people but heart-broken leaving many thousands behind. I could still remember with an excruciating pain in my heart – faces… hundreds of frozen faces that expressed a deep pain and hopelessness as we were leaving the town and they were waving goodbye with their eyes wide open in a desperate attempt to remember the faces of their loved ones going to the unknown.

We both took a risk – the ones left behind risked being killed or tortured or starved to death. We (‘the lucky ones’) risked being stopped on the road and taken away by enemy forces, possibly killed. We were terrified of this unknown – how would we manage to survive on our journey to ‘safety’? Worst of all were the bewildering thoughts we faced: would we ever see our loved ones again, our home and everything that meant to us? Our journey to the unknown was an act of faith, as was our faith that our loved ones who were left behind would survive.

This road was closing one part of my life and opening a new and unknown life ahead of me. I knew little of what the future was going to bring me on this new journey.

Women from our country were faced with multiple challenges requiring enormous energy, stamina and commitment. Women who had to go through transit countries on their journey to safety, and spend several years there waiting for permanent settlement had to go through the misery of refugee life which contributed further to our psychological pain and suffering. Some of the women that I knew had to continually move from one country to another, against their choice. Every time they were faced with a new and foreign environment, sometimes hostility and humiliation. Each time children  and  their  mothers  (us)  had  to  undergo the enormous effects of having to adapt and adjust to new schools,  new languages,  new cultures, new systems. We had to make new friends, find our way around a new city … survive!

Did we think that we as mothers and carers and breadwinners needed anything? No! To even be able to think of our needs at that time would have been a real luxury! We had other priorities in our everyday lives … the wellbeing of our children, helping families back home who had to survive without the most basic necessities such as a food, electricity, water, gas, nor to mention the 24 hour fear of been killed.

Dealing with our children’s experiences of settling into schools and their peer groups was another big obstacle – how to help them with their homework, how to support them emotionally and fill other gaps to ensure a healthy childhood? It was a constant battle. How to replace the people and things that they missed out on and that were so dear to them? How to help them feel that they belonged to their peer group while still maintaining the values that we wanted them to grow up with? We’d often wake up panicking that we hadn’t yet finished what we intended to do, so we decided the only way was to double the load, while trying to grapple time, time that become our worst enemy.

On the other hand, led by the instinct and dedication to survive, women discovered some incredible skills and abilities that had been hidden and suppressed for a very long time. Those discoveries have made these women more confident, stronger, independent and dedicated. Driven by the desire to survive, women who experienced these disasters deserve to be seen as heroines.

I was impressed by the strength and dedication of all those women, including myself, making our way through that difficult time. Not only did we manage to survive through such a difficult time and, on many occasions within hostile surroundings, but we also managed to play the multiple roles of mothers, carers, counselors, teachers, cooks, laborers, mediators, advocates, managers and you name it, what else! We risked our lives to gain our lives. I’ve always wondered where we drew such energy and Strength from! Later on I learnt that it is called survival.


Written by Ozana Bozic and edited by Amira Rahamanovic

Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health



Free cross-cultural ‘carers’ training for health and allied professionals in the City of Monash

Want to improve your support of carers from a CALD background?

Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health (MCWH) is offering it’s Beyond Cultural Competency course to professionals in the City of Monash who want to improve their support of carers from refugee and immigrant backgrounds.

The two-day workshop will:

  • help identify potential ‘hidden’ carers in your work;
  • enhance understanding of CALD carers and the unique barriers they face in accessing support services;
  • explore the concept of intersectionality and how we might apply it to our practice;
  • identify best practice principles including cultural and linguistic appropriateness, access and equity and collaboration;
  • offer professionals the opportunity to reflect on their practice, and develop strategies to improve their work with immigrant and refugee communities.

It is aimed at supporting professionals from:

  • General Practices (General practitioners, nurses, admin staff)
  • Respite Care Providers
  • Community Legal Centre
  • Centrelink
  • Local Council
  • Community Health Services
  • Schools or playgroups
  • Other relevant carer support or community organisation in the City of Monash

Currently two courses have been scheduled:

  • 27 October & 3 November (location TBC)
  • 9 November & 16 November (location TBC)

To register your interest or for more information please contact our training team on 1800 656 421 or training@mcwh.com.au.

60 seconds with Solmaz Yavari: Queen fan, case manager and aspiring rodeo rider

Multi Cultural Hub Portraiture

What are you enjoying doing at the moment?
I do enjoy advocating for people rights and
I feel fortunate that I am in the position of being able to do so.

If you had a magic wand, what would you use it for?
If I had a magic wand, I would have used it to change the negative perceptions towards migrants, refugees and specifically asylum seekers.

What talent would you most like to possess?
I’d love to be rodeo rider!

What is the best part of your job?
As a case manager, I love it that my clients feel comfortable enough to share the personal challenges in their lives with me and that I can support them through their journey to make their decisions on what works for them best.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone new to Australia, what would it be?
I would say what one of my teachers told me while ago. He said: “If you plan to migrate to a country, you do need to know the history of your country and the country you migrating to, perfectly.

What’s your favourite word in the English language? Why?
I do not have a favourite word in English but one expression I love is “and I mean it this time”, probably because I do mean it this time!

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a woman from an immigrant or refugee background?
It has been quite challenging, in fact it has given me a lot of pain to prove what technical and professional skills I have brought to this country. I seem to have to prove myself over and over.

For you, what’s the best thing about being a woman from an immigrant/refugee background?
Being a woman from a different background has enabled me to be more thoughtful of the challenges other women from other backgrounds are facing. It helps me to understand them more and be able to build rapport more quickly with them. I understand.

Tell me about an amazing woman you know.
My friend Beverly, a retired primary school teacher. She was our first Australian friend in Australia who welcomed my family and I in a very sincere natural way. Bev included us as her family from the first day she met us. She is also amazing in what she has done in her personal life, a life full of giving and caring for others, and accepting others as they are regardless of their races.

What are you reading right now?
I am currently reading ‘No Man’s Land’ by David Baldacci.

Do you have a song/music that inspires and motivates you?
The song “Show Must Go On!” by Queen always makes me keep going however recently listening to the song “Despacito” inspires me a lot, specially this version by 2cellos.

What could you never be without?

If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?
Stopping the wars.

If you could meet the Prime Minister tomorrow, what would like to tell him?
I would let him know how painful it can be to witness that families, children, single adults, fathers, mothers suffering day to day as a result of the current policy in place not being able to reunite with their families.

Our Position on Marriage Equality: Saying ‘Yes’ to equal rights and health


If you’ve been following the national news lately you’ll be aware that next week there will be a High Court decision which will advise Australians about whether we will be heading to the (postal) polls to register our views about marriage equality.

If the postal survey goes ahead the question before all of us will be about whether we agree that all Australians should have the equal right to marry.

From an immigrant and refugee women’s health perspective, MCWH wholeheartedly supports equal rights on all matters for all women. That means of course, that we also support marriage equality in Australia. Besides the compelling question of equal rights in and of themselves, the links are manifestly clear between discrimination and poor mental health, and that holds for all forms of discrimination, whether on the basis of sex, race or sexuality.

Discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sexuality, and the combination of all three, prevents immigrant and refugee women from accessing the health services they need freely and without fear of negative repercussions. Immigrant and refugee women from LGBTIQ communities should not have to worry about the homophobia they might encounter when they visit a health practitioner; they should access health care confident that their intimate partner will be recognised by the system.

As Audre Lorde has stated, no woman lives a single issue life. As a result, our politics must be multi-faceted.

We support our LGBTIQ sisters and we care about their equal rights. We want all immigrant and refugee women in Australia to enjoy the greatest possible health and wellbeing throughout their lives and to share those lives with whoever they choose.

Media Release: Multicultural women’s health organisation and aged care provider partnering for the primary prevention of family violence

Five women standing in the Southern Cross Care offices, from left to right.

We are proud to be launching our new project in partnership with Southern Cross Care (Vic)! Equality@Work is the first workplace prevention program in Australia to address gender inequality and other intersecting forms of inequality which make immigrant and refugee women particularly vulnerable to family violence and other forms of violence against women.

The project is funded by the Victorian Government through the Community Partnerships for Primary Prevention Program.

A violence prevention program by a community-based organisation for women of immigrant and refugee backgrounds and a not-for-profit aged care provider has been given a boost, thanks to a grant from the Victorian Government through the Community Partnerships for Primary Prevention Program.
The Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health (MCWH) and Southern Cross Care (Vic) were delighted to receive a grant for their partnership project, Equality@Work, which aims to develop and implement a workplace model specific to immigrant and refugee female employees to prevent family violence and other forms of violence.

The partnership project will build on the existing relationship between the organisations. In 2013, Southern Cross Care (Vic) introduced a women’s health education program across the organisation followed by a women’s leadership program, both facilitated by MCWH.
“We are proud to partner with Southern Cross Care again, to build on previous and current initiatives that will further empower women and give them a stronger voice in the workplace,” said Adele Murdolo, Executive Director of MCWH.

“Female workers from immigrant and refugee backgrounds are a growing and increasingly dominant cohort within the Australian aged care workforce. As such, they are of critical importance to the sector’s viability in terms of addressing the need to care for Australia’s multicultural ageing population, which is expected to quadruple by 2050,” said Adele.

Executive Manager of Workforce and Culture at Southern Cross Care (Vic), Danielle Rose, said the grant will enable the organisation to further develop its gender equality and violence prevention model.

“Women account for over 88 per cent of our total workforce of 1400 employees, of which, more than 60 per cent are from an immigrant and refugee background,” she said. “Through our partnership with MCWH, we want to provide opportunities for women from a non-English speaking background to take a leadership role in championing gender equality and violence prevention, and to be involved in the engagement and development of a shared action plan that is meaningful to them.”

“As an accredited White Ribbon Workplace, we are committed to ending the cycle of violence against women. We will be engaging our White Ribbon Ambassador to assist in the promotion and facilitation of the project within the organisation,” said Danielle.

The Equality@Work project has commenced on 1 July. The model will be co-designed with staff at two locations – Southern Cross Care (Vic)’s community services office in the north-west region and the aged care home in Springvale. Once the model is developed, it can be adapted and implemented across all Southern Cross Care locations in Victoria. The project is expected to be completed in 12 months.

In Brief

Networking nightWe hosted our first networking night at the MCWH office in Collingwood on the 25th May and it was a great success!
Read more about the knowledge we shared and what you can expect next time!

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Delegate visitOn April 7th, Multicultural Centre for Women’s Health  warmly welcomed 19 Australian and international delegates into our Collingwood office for a field visit during the World Congress on Public Health.

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Netfa forum 2017The third NETFA forum Foundations for Change was held in Melbourne on the 24th March.Over 70 people attended to
discuss women’s rights, health and prevention of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C).

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Keeping busy

Health Education Program (HEP)

MCWH Multilingual Health Education Programs have been delivering important health information to women from immigrant and refugee backgrounds since 1978. Programs are conducted in industry and community settings by highly trained and qualified Bilingual Health Educators, from an immigrant or refugee background. These programs are uniquely successful because health information is provided in:

  • the preferred language of the women attending the program;
  • location and at times that are most convenient for women; and
  • ways which respect women’s experiences and knowledge and understand their cultural context.

This woman-to-woman approach is our peer education model, and is based on the belief that sharing health information and experiences is the best way to increase women’s health knowledge and wellbeing.

A highlight  this year has been working with Nestle to bring health education into places of work, and with AMES Australia and Melbourne Polytechnic to conduct sessions in places where women learn. Find out more about our Health Education Programs.

Grant updates

We are so pleased to announce that we have recently been successful in our funding application to the Victorian Government to deliver a violence prevention project in partnership with Southern Cross Care Victoria. We look forward to commencing the project on July 1st, 2017.

Board news

We warmly welcome two new board members: Catherine Ross and Tamara Kwarteng. Catherine comes from a philanthropic background and is passionate about grassroots community and generosity. A fundraiser for over 15 years, she studied International Politics and Development at the University of Melbourne (2012) and is now proudly Fundraising Manager for The Reach Foundation. Joining the MCWH Board in May 2017, Catherine is focused on sustainability and creating awareness for the valuable programs and community created for women by women.

Tamara comes to MCWH with an extensive background in public health, having had experience overseeing and leading numerous HIV & AIDS programs in Australia, Asia, the Pacific and Africa. Since January 2010, Dr Kwarteng has been an independent consultant providing technical advice in public health program design, monitoring, and evaluation.We warmly welcome her experience in organisational capacity-building, applied research, policy analysis and development, and training and education programs.

Around the office



We farewell our National Training Officer, Maria Hach. Maria joined MCWH in 2011 as a Health Promotion and Project Officer before beginning her training role in 2012. During her time at MCWH, Maria developed and implemented the nationally accredited Bilingual Health Education Program. She was also responsible for various projects, including the Common Threads Sexual and Reproductive Health Research Report and Best Practice Guide  and Culturally Responsive Palliative Care Community Education Project. Maria leaves us for a good reason – she is completing a PhD thesis in Cultural and Gender Studies, which explores inter-generational trauma and affectivity of historical violence among Cambodian-Australian women. All the best Maria!


We also farewell Zubaidah Shaburdin, our NETFA Project Officer. NETFA achieved many milestones in its three year period, not least of which were the annual NETFA forums. Read more about the highlights of the 2017 forum in the link above. You can also access an array of resources in English and many other languages, plus the National Education Toolkit on the NETFA website. 

Rosi Wedding_small

We warmly congratulate our Project Officer Rosi Aryal-Lees, for her recent Nepali-Australian nuptials to now husband Steven Lees. As per Nepali tradition, a priest guided the couple through the ritual steps of worshipping Ganesh and the nine planets, exchanging rings, repeating seven sacred vows and sharing a short peace meditation with guests. A delight to witness for the 150 guests who had travelled from all over the country and the world to celebrate this truly memorable and special day.