Ballarat Regional Multicultural Council Italian client Vincenzo Barbaro. Picture: Teresa Azzopardi

Article by The Courier

Multicultural families in Ballarat and the surrounding region are being supported throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

Ballarat Regional Multicultural Council has adapted its services to ensure members of its community stay connected, informed and have access to essential goods throughout this challenging time.

Executive officer Ann Foley said staff and volunteers quickly put programs in place to support those who were at increased risk of isolation and physical and mental health issues, including the elderly and those learning English.

She said 130 seniors who usually come together a few times a week for social events and outings were now receiving a delivered meal and an activity once a fortnight.

“These are people who are already quite isolated and vulnerable. Now the most important thing for them, particularly given many of them are frail, is to stay home,” Ms Foley said.

“We drop off a few nice activities for people to do, last week it was some plants to plant in the garden, and a meal to make sure people are with us and cared for.

“We will continue to do that as long as we can’t bring people together in gatherings and we will continue to maintain good contact with those older culturally diverse Australians in our region so they know they are part of our community.”

Ms Foley said she was also particularly concerned about people learning English during lockdown.

“These are people who are already quite isolated and vulnerable.”

Ann Foley, Ballarat Regional Multicultural Council

She said the Ballarat Regional Multicultural Council’s English language program was quickly moved to online lessons, replacing regular one-on-one lessons in homes and small group sessions.

“One of the really lovely things about that work is it is mainly community volunteers, people in the community who want to do something with their skills and English and share it with new migrants who are very isolated without a good grasp of English language,” Ms Foley said.

“We are really pleased we have been able to have that continue and in fact, build that.”

Ballarat Regional Multicultural Council Senior Services team staff Helen Bennetts and Natalie Athayde delivered plants to elderly clients as an isolation activity. Picture: Teresa Azzopardi

Ms Foley said isolation was compounded for people who were not comfortable with English and could not easily find people to talk to in their own language.

She said many refugees were also worried about their families in their home countries who may be in unsafe homes and where health care systems were not coping with the pandemic.

“They would love to be close to their families and loved ones at this time and they can’t be,” Ms Foley said.

“That also compounds the isolation and worry that people feel, not only about their own situation but about their loved ones in other countries.”

Ballarat Regional Multicultural Council’s diversity homework club is also being run online two days a week for around 17 students.

Ms Foley said volunteers help young students with their homework and also help them feel comfortable about the education system in Australia.

“We have been really delighted to have some students from high schools in Ballarat come on board as volunteers,” she said.

“It creates a wonderful connection and young students are really pleased to be working with high school students as education mentors.”

In other community partnerships, Loreto College donated 25 laptops that have been recommissioned by Ballarat IT company Lateral Plains and given to people in the community who could not afford devices that enable learning and contact. Laptop covers were provided by Nhill women’s refugee business Paw Po.

Another new program is a fresh fruit and vegetable drop off at the Ballarat Welcome Centre next to Barkly Square. Members of the community can drop of excess fresh food from their garden on Monday and Tuesdays from 11am to 12pm.

“We will make sure the food is distributed to families to households who need it, particularly people who are here from migrant backgrounds, refugees or asylum seekers who either can’t work or have lost their work and are a long way down in the queue for jobs,” Ms Foley said.

“Like many in the community, we are seeing compassion and generosity come to the fore. We are seeing a lot of good will.”

The Victorian Government announced $11.3 million to support multicultural communities across the state last week.

Ms Foley said the funding was welcome and would flow through to services in Ballarat.

“Boost in support for multicultural families at increased risk of isolation” Rochelle Kirkham, The Courier (, 14 May 2020.