2021 CHSP Conference – Recognising and valuing strengths, engagement, independence and leadership

During uncertain times, one thing has remained: the Commonwealth Home Support Programme (CHSP) continues to provide the support that older people want and need.

Let it Shine! is an online conference for everyone interested in the success of the Commonwealth Home Support Programme (CHSP) in supporting older people to live a connected and fulfilling life.

Anastasia Mate-Kote from Diversitat Aged Support presented at this years’ event – showcasing the hugely successful Diversity Theatre Project.

Here is a transcript of the presentation:

Intercultural awareness cultivates values and dispositions such as curiosity, care, empathy, respect and open-mindedness.

It supports new and positive intercultural behaviours.

Recently there has been a lot of conversation about the importance of cultural awareness and the similarities between service provision challenges and principles amongst key diversity organisations.

In the Barwon Region, this conversation took place between Wathaurong Co-Operative, Geelong Rainbow Inc. and Diversitat: organisations specialising in working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, LGBTI+ and CALD and Refugee communities respectively.

Funding from the Australian Government Department of Health was received with the aim to unite and further strengthen the relationship between Geelong’s peak diversity groups.

The Diversity Theatre Project’s aim was to provide inclusivity, safety, acceptance and connection to the participants using the person-centred approach and intercultural practices through performing arts.

I would like to talk about the deliverables of the Diversity Theatre Project:

  • Starting with the participants of the project being recruited from the LGBTI+, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and CALD and refugee communities.
  • We had to undertake some very thorough intake assessments: I will elaborate on this a bit later.
  • We had 3 workshops running per week.
  • The transportation to and from the venue was provided to those who were unable to travel independently.
  • We would provide nutritious meals to the participants. The meals were freshly cooked in our kitchen on the day and we would also provide morning tea where some fresh fruit was always present. The participants were encouraged to drink water throughout the day.
  • The final goal was to produce a performance that would be co-designed by the participants and the directors.
  • There were 2 showings of the performance planned to take place at a professional venue. The priority tickets would be distributed between participants’ families, carers and community members.
  • Another important aspect of the project was a professional client wellbeing evaluation by the Deakin University OT Department. The assessments were scheduled for the very start of the project, midway, and upon conclusion of the performances.
Diversity Theatre Project participants

The following were the very important goals of the project:

  • To create a safe space through inclusive intercultural practices.
  • To improve physical wellbeing through involuntary movements and healthy meals.
  • To create meaningful connections through sharing of personal stories and experiences – the performance was based on the personal stories of the participants.
  • To improve mental health through trauma informed practices.

The structure of the project was an integral part to achieving these set goals.

  • It was important to have representation from all three communities and I guess the key people in our project that ensured its success were the cultural guides. Their role was to ensure the cultural safety and that the project is run in line with the cultural protocols.

Another key person who ensured safety for the participants was our wellbeing coordinator.

This role provided counselling support to the participants on occasions when personal stories or traumatic experiences would be brought up. This is why the intake assessments were very important. Having the understanding that some discussions may trigger traumatic memories, we had to collect the initial information about our participants thoroughly to be aware of the potential reactions.

The creative team that facilitated the workshops consisted of: Project Directors, a Video Operator whose role was to document the project, a music facilitator who would be in charge of the musical component and we also had some amazing guest experts talking to our participants about creative writing, facilitating dance workshops and more.

Here is the structure of a typical day at the Diversity Theatre Project.

Very early in the project, we participated in cultural safety training facilitated by trainers from all three partnering organisations. We found that it was very important to use trainers from local communities as there are important local considerations when it comes to the delivery of regional cultural safety training. It was also very beneficial for the project that staff, participants and volunteers undertake this training.

So what did it help us to achieve?

  • It contributed to the creation of a safe environment
  • Provided important cultural knowledge

But what was amazing to witness is that it initiated some meaningful conversations between the participants. An example was when one of our participants from a CALD community shared with the group that they used a lot of words in the past that could be triggering for some other participants and that they used it only because they didn’t know the history behind them and that for them, English being their second language, those words didn’t have such bad connotations. After learning about appropriate language use, they explained that they now understood how upsetting this could be for some other participants and that they would never use these words again.

Diversity Theatre Project

Cultural training was a very important step in creating a safe environment for all of our participants and ensured that everyone was comfortable with each other and enjoyed the space that was created.

A month and a half into the project, the world went into a state of emergency due to the unprecedented measures taken by governments to stop the spread of Coronovirus. It meant that we had to stop face to face workshops. It left us with a lot of questions and challenges to overcome. The experiences of our participants, the benefits to their health and wellbeing that we had witnessed in such short amount of time, made us determined to come up with solutions to keep the project going.

In line with restrictions, we couldn’t have face to face workshops any longer, it was also impossible to plan for the live performance.

This is how we started to explore new opportunities: we had to stay connected with our clients, so we decided we would facilitate welfare checks weekly – this ensured that we would be able to provide individual support to our most vulnerable clients who didn’t have any family support during the periods of lockdown.

We also decided to transition our workshops online (I will talk about it a bit more on the next slide).

And we found an alternative to the live performance. Our video operator had filmed many hours of workshops. So we decided to use this asset to create a documentary about the project.

We paid a lot of attention to choosing the most optimum platform for the facilitation of the workshops. We had to make sure that it was user-friendly and that it would ensure compliance with privacy and confidentiality policies and procedures.

We offered to loan IT devices to the clients who didn’t have one and we also provided support to the clients by teaching them how to use the device and how to use the Zoom platform.

This didn’t work for all of our clients and some made the choice to not participate in the online workshops.

I think it is important to mention here that the online format came with some challenges such as: how do we ensure physical safety during the workshops. We offered some low-impact physical exercises to the clients and ensured that the environment was safe for participants to execute them. It was an individual choice whether these activities were something they were comfortable participating in.

Another challenge was to make sure that even though the workshops were now running online, that the group remained a safe space where participants could share personal stories.

Online workshops also presented some challenges in ensuring privacy and confidentiality of the process. We had to consider that there could have been other people living in the household with some of our participants. This was a difficult situation as we discussed personal stories and private experiences.

Finally, we had to preserve the amazing connection that was formed between the participants in the first month. This connection was a key element to the positive dynamic within the group.

What we observed in those participants who chose to attend online workshops and also based on the anecdotal feedback were noticeable benefits to mental health as well as social and emotional connections developed through online interactions and participation in the workshops.

Staff who conducted weekly welfare checks also developed trusting relationships and built strong rapport with the clients. We paid a lot of attention to trauma informed practices and person-centred individual support. To our surprise, the comfort of their own homes allowed for the sharing of very personal stories with each other that our clients possibly would have never shared in a different setting.

The pandemic no doubt brought its challenges to the course of the project which eventually developed into a Documentary that was broadcast on SBS and attracted attention from the Immigration Museum Victoria.

Diversity Theatre Project on SBS

But what was most valuable about it all? This is something I’d like to share with you on the next couple of slides:

I would like to finish this presentation by inviting you to take a look at the Diversity Theatre Project from a different perspective: through the eyes of our participants.

Here is what some of them say about their experiences with the Diversity Theatre Project:

“In telling stories, by acting out those stories and representing them in other ways that invoke our senses, we make our stories really ‘seen’ and ‘sensed’. In taking part of the dramatization and watching the dramatization, it is easy to imagine what it would have been like, and to empathise, understand and care about the stories and their narrator.”

“Diversity Theatre Project creates an ambience where everyone feels safe to share personal things and it allows everyone to grow personally. Exploring other people’s stories through Drama can be joyous and cathartic at the same time, validating, supportive. It is the stories that are often hidden away by people that are shared and it gives an opportunity to validate people’s experiences.”

“Diversity Theatre is comfortable and everyone is equal, from all different groups. The Theatre group is like family”.

“I really enjoy getting to know people from different countries, support each other and reveal stories that have been hidden away for ages.”

Written and presented by Anastasia Mate-Kote.