Workshop participants, front row (L to R): Min Khin, H Keh, Hka Nu Nyut, Kin Maung Myint; middle row (L to R): Manung Nei, Kachuol Marial, Terefe Aborete, Maung Hni Thwe, Sui Ly Khenglot; back row (L to R): Yuduf Abdulaziz, Apach Mapieu, Awan Mashak, photo: Paul Jeffers
In a small room in a semi-industrial area of Hopper's Crossing, a dozen people sit in a circle. All the women and men present are regarded as leaders in their communities and their discussion today revolves around ways to prevent gambling harm. Despite these conversations occurring in suburban Melbourne, the tenor of this workshop is that of a gathering of village elders; stories are told, hardships described and advice sought on ways to assist someone who has asked for help.
The workshop is part of the Wyndam Gambling Prevention Project, which is run by the Horn of Africa Communities Network and funded by the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation. The project is aimed at newly arrived communities from refugee backgrounds living in the City of Wyndham in Melbourne's south-west. The languages of these communities are Dinka, spoken mainly in South Sudan; Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia; Somali; and the Burmese languages Karen and Chin.
The tenor of this workshop is that of a gathering of village elders; stories are told, hardships described and advice sought.
In addition to recruiting and training leaders to raise issues related to gambling harm and its prevention with their community members, the project is developing information kits in five languages.
Why newly arrived communities are vulnerable to gambling harm
Studies have shown that people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities tend to gamble less than the overall population, but those who do may be more likely to experience harm.
Terefe Aborete is the managing director of the Horn of Africa Communities Network. He says many members of the groups the project is targeting have experienced extreme hardship in their journey to Australia, often having spent upwards of 20 years living in refugee camps. Such hardship makes people vulnerable to gambling harm. Due to language barriers and a lack of professional qualifications, a significant proportion relies solely on Centrelink for financial survival. Many have large numbers of children by Australian standards and, in addition, often send a proportion of their limited income to relatives still living in camps.
Many members of the groups have experienced extreme hardship, often having spent upwards of 20 years living in refugee camps.
‘Gambling is seen as a shortcut to becoming more financially secure,’ Terefe says. ‘In most cases, of course, this doesn't happen. But if one person has some gambling success, it reinforces to others that winning is possible.’
Min Khin is a leader in the Karen-speaking Burmese community and has lived in Australia for three years. He has seen firsthand the harm caused by gambling, including depression, marriage break-up and financial distress.
'They can't see a future,' Min says of those experiencing problems. ‘It's as if their lives stop. They are just struggling with gambling. They don't have any hope for their life.’
He says attitudes within the community can make it difficult to reach people experiencing gambling harm.
‘They might be very ashamed; some of them are very secret about it. We have to be very smart in the way we approach people and give them information.’
‘Gambling is seen as a shortcut to becoming more financially secure.’
This is where the workshops with other community leaders can assist. If participants are unsure how best to reach out to someone, other leaders in the group can give advice and relate their experiences.
The importance of trust
Before becoming involved in the project, Awan Bangok Mashak was already viewed with enormous respect in the South Sudanese community.
‘Through educating and empowering such a person, we can reach almost the entire community,’ Terefe says. ‘The spreading of information is primarily on a one-to-one basis within a relationship that is already built on trust.’
While Awan and other leaders were aware that some of their community were at risk of gambling harm, they were unsure where to go for help.
'Gambling has left many people unable to pay their rent,’ Awan says.
‘They might be very ashamed; some of them are very secret about it.’
Another problem the leaders face is that the stigma attached to gambling can make those experiencing harm isolate themselves. Through the workshops, Awan and the other leaders hope to learn the best way to reach out to these people. This, however, is only a short-term goal, he says.
'We need a long-term program to learn not only what services we can direct them to, but also how to support them and help them in a way that is sustainable.’
The project is at an early stage with two leaders' workshops held to date. Information on services has been collected and is being collated for distribution in kits in the targeted languages. Once the leaders' training is completed, they will be assisted to hold village-style forums for their communities.
‘We need to engage them [people experiencing gambling harm],’ Terefe says, ‘so that they forget that situation and focus on a new situation. That's how I see it.’
Read more about the work of the Horn of Africa Communities Network.
Read about research on gambling in culturally and linguistically diverse communities in Australia in this edition of Inside gambling.
If you are experiencing problems with gambling, or someone close to you has a problem, call Gambler's Help on 1800 858 858. We can arrange an interpreter for free if you need one.
Find out more about getting help.