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Support on the way for socially isolated Sri Lankan seniors in Victoria

A program to connect socially isolated seniors from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) backgrounds in Melbourne's eastern metro region is expanding its reach to support seniors from a Sri Lankan background.

Group members Connie, Vijay, Punya and Phyllis with staff member Karen (Source: Villa Maria Catholic Homes)
Group members Connie, Vijay, Punya and Phyllis with staff member Karen (Source: Villa Maria Catholic Homes)

The Multicultural Wellness Centre in the Victorian suburb of Wantrina South is run by Villa Maria Catholic Homes and is open to seniors over the age of 65 from CALD backgrounds – with programs and groups currently running for those of a Chinese, Filipino and now Sri Lankan background.

Villa Maria Catholic Homes Day Centre Coordinator Lynne Cahir says that the centre has gone from ‘strength to strength’ since opening 17 months ago; building its Chinese and Filipino social groups to 80 and 16 members respectively and recently forming the Sri Lankan group.

She adds that given that the number of older Australians from CALD backgrounds will increase to make up 30 percent of those aged 65 and over by 2021, groups like what is offered at the Centre are vital.

“Being socially isolated can reduce life expectancy and overall health, both physically and emotionally,” Ms Cahir says.

“While there are many groups for people of Italian and Greek backgrounds, we found there was not much support for the Sri Lankan community.

“Most of the members do speak English but it still may be a bit of a challenge so we always have a staff member who speaks Sinhalese and encourage members to chat in their native language,” Ms Cahir explains.

As part of the weekly group, members pay a daily attendance fee that includes meals and sees them socialise, undertake cooking classes, exercise classes, go on community outings and listen to guest speakers.

Fee reductions are made available to those experiencing financial difficulty.

Among the local residents benefiting from the weekly group meeting is 66 year old Corrine Kelaart who, since migrating to Australia in 1994, has experienced racial discrimination and depression and has struggled with living alone and away from her two children and grandchildren in Sri Lanka.

“Every Monday I get up extra early, I don’t even need to set an alarm, and get ready to come – I would be very lonely if I missed it,” Ms Kelaart says.

“Everybody in the group is so nice and they make me feel very welcome.”

Ms Kelaart also encouraged more CALD seniors to come along.

“There might be a lot of people like me out there facing a lot of problems who don’t have a place to go. It’s been a help for me,” she adds.

For fellow group member Rita Padmaperuma, who describes it as a ‘nice community’, the weekly catch up isn’t about helping herself; it’s about helping others.

“We have a chit chat and a cup of tea, do some chair exercises, have lunch and play some games,” she says.

“I like listening to other people’s problems and helping if I can.”

More information on the Multicultural Wellness Centre and the support groups run by Villa Maria Catholic Homes is available by calling (03) 9800 7255.

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