Edition #7: Cultural Diversity Week

Macedonian Senior Citizens Women's Dancing Group Veseli Makedonki performing with the Macedonian Pensioner Group Dimche Mogilce on International Women's Day 2017, photo: Paul Jeffers

Seniors are doing it for themselves

The Italian Senior Citizens Club in Moonee Ponds is abuzz with activity. Dozens of people are seated around tables, playing cards, talking and laughing. On the walls are group photos. In one, people in floral dresses and colourful shirts are gathered for a Hawaiian-themed dance night, in another they stand in front of a bus shelter at Marysville, and in yet another they're enjoying a picnic at Steavenson Falls. Their beaming faces draw the viewer's gaze.

I'm here to talk with Frank Di Blasi from Co.As.It and Elisa Attard, president of the Moonee Ponds Italian Senior Citizens Club, about the success of HealthWest's Reducing Gambling Frequency project. Funded by the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation and in partnership with six ethnic organisations, it aims to reduce gambling frequency among culturally and linguistically diverse seniors club members in Melbourne's north-west.

Over the last two years, through group forums, club visits and articles in Italian-language newspapers, Frank has been encouraging Italian seniors associations to choose group activities other than gambling. In this respect, and under Elisa’s leadership, the Moonee Ponds club has become a model.

The key to success was to offer alternatives to gambling rather than lecturing members on the dangers.

Four to six times a year, members are offered outings ranging from visits to German-themed smorgasbord restaurants in the Dandenong Ranges to picking chestnuts in Bright. The club-subsidised outings are in addition to monthly luncheons, complete with entertainment. The luncheons have proved so successful, Elisa has been forced to cap numbers. 'Otherwise, there is no room for people to dance!’

Before introducing these alternative activities, gambling was popular among members, who, according to Elisa, are primarily looking for activity and companionship. The key to success was to offer alternatives to gambling rather than lecturing members on the dangers.

Why gambling is a common social outing for seniors

According to Nade Ristevska, special projects department coordinator with the Macedonian Community Welfare Association, many gambling venues are promoted to seniors groups. Also a HealthWest project partner, the association engaged 136 senior leaders in Melbourne's north-west to discuss seniors' vulnerability to gambling harm. It also sought to find out why gambling was chosen as a social outing. Issues identified included:

  • insufficient information in their language
  • lack of information about alternative activities
  • the cost of social outings
  • social isolation and transport difficulties.

As a result of these factors, gambling venues, which often offer cheap transport to their premises and inexpensive food, can be appealing.

To combat these inducements, the Macedonian Community Welfare Association ran targeted workshops to give seniors skills in finding and attending alternative activities. This included coaching from technology training service ReadyTechGo in the use of devices such as iPads. Seniors could also attend workshops to familiarise them with using public transport, reading timetables and obtaining seniors' transport discounts. The association also ensured details of events appropriate for seniors were broadcast on a weekly Macedonian language radio show.

Gambling venues, which often offer cheap transport to their premises and inexpensive food, can be appealing.

A duty of care

Older man and woman holding hands and smiling at an indoor eventMoonee Ponds Italian Senior Citizens Club members Tony and Toni Renkovic at one of the club’s monthly luncheons, photo: Frank Di Blasi

Frank finds little resistance to the gambling avoidance message he promotes in forums for Italian seniors leaders. He stresses the duty of care club presidents have for their members; their responsibility to warn them of the potential for gambling harm and the possible ramifications on their health and wellbeing.

This aspect of the project is also an important consideration for Nade. She says group leaders taking part in the project have a greater awareness of gambling harm.

‘They're starting to understand that even though they are volunteers, they still have a responsibility towards their members.’

The message is here to stay

The Macedonian Senior Citizens Women's Dancing Group Veseli Makedonki regularly performs at events such as Harmony Day and is often invited to nursing homes and schools. It also operates as a social group, organising picnics and lunches, outings to other cultural groups, and, in the past, occasionally to gambling venues. Since engaging with the Reducing Gambling Frequency project two years ago, group leader Susie Kotevski says it hasn't visited a gambling venue, and has expanded the activities it offers.

Nade hopes the project will continue to build knowledge and resilience within seniors groups so that even when leaders change, awareness of gambling harm remains. Frank is optimistic about the success of the project within Italian seniors groups. In Moonee Ponds, he says, gambling awareness and resilience have become embedded in the culture of the group. He would like to see the project extended to culturally and linguistically diverse seniors groups in the wider metropolitan area.

‘Gambling is like a sickness,’ Susie says. Now Veseli Makedonki's outings focus on cultural exchange and creating happiness. ‘Everybody comes to dance and enjoy with us. It's so beautiful.’

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