GIPPSLAND Multicultural Services (GMS) have been gathering images and stories from local multicultural women for a COVID memory museum.
The project is part of the Workforce Of Multilingual Health Educators Project (WOMHEn), and is a collaboration between GMS and Gippsland Women’s Health (GWH).
WOMHEn is funded by the state government’s Working for Victoria initiative and is comprised of health educators based around Victoria at women’s services.
The group intends on using their findings to better work with the Latrobe Valley community, and increase understanding and connection for multicultural women.
It will showcase images of items that helped local women through the pandemic, whether that be a knitted blanket, baked goods or a donation box.
These images will be showcased in an exhibition style format alongside the women’s personal stories about the pandemic.
The team collaborating on the project are Cher Jimenez, Megha Gupta and Wen Liu.
Ms Liu originally came up with the idea, having viewed similar exhibitions in the past.
“Photos are very visual and powerful … regardless of language and cultural background,” she said.
She explained that photos allow barriers such as language to be broken down.
“Language barriers make it really hard for people to get in touch with each other,” Ms Liu said.
“This is not just for multicultural women themselves, it is also for the community – they can understand multicultural women through these photos.”
The project also allows people to share their COVID-19 experience without these barriers getting in the way.
The group explains that for many members of the community, the pandemic was a very isolating time.
“People living here, in really rural and remote areas, it’s pretty hard for people to get together – people are isolated,” Ms Liu said.
Latrobe is a focus in Gippsland due to the number of multicultural groups in the area.
“This is the centric place for multicultural women, so GMS have a lot of clients with multicultural backgrounds,” Ms Jimenez said.
She said many multicultural women face additional barriers due to factors such age.
“A lot of the multicultural women here are seniors, so they’ve kind of felt isolated since COVID,” Ms Jimenez said.
“Sharing their story through photos is something that they can do, they can easily do, and they’re happy to do.”
Throughout COVID many have struggled to use technology to connect the way younger people have.
“They are older women who are not that technology savvy and it’s very difficult for them to access online information,” Ms Gupta added.
The COVID memory museum has enabled deeper connection and greater understanding of clients for staff at GMS.
“We want to see how they experience this, and how COVID has impacted on their mental health and wellbeing,” Ms Liu said.
The organisers intend on using the photos to create an exhibition to display around Latrobe.
The exhibition is still in the planning phase, however the women are keen to get the community and contributors as involved as possible.
Contributors to the museum will likely be able to view the displays first, giving them the opportunity to see their story included with others.
A total of 32 submissions will be displayed at the exhibition, however more submissions have been received.
The three women have been working together on the project throughout the pandemic, and have had to persevere through online meetings and unexpected lockdowns.
“The good think about this project is its very flexible, and very understanding of women… this project allows us to juggle our different roles,” Ms Jimenez said.
Ms Gupta said the photographs and stories they have received are “very touching”.
“They can empathise with others, they all are in the same boat … and they can learn from each other’s stories,” she said.
The project was initially intended to finish up in November this year, however additional funding has allow the group extend it.
The participants are likely to be able to view the first stage of the exhibition in December, however the exact date is uncertain.
To keep up to date with GMS, visit their Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/Gippslandmulticulturalservices