Khadija Gbla is a former refugee born in Sierra Leone. She and her family resettled in Australia when she was a teenager. Today she is an award winning human rights activist who runs her own cultural consultancy providing advocacy training, as well as speaking on domestic and family violence, child protection, racism, human rights, refugees, and cultural diversity. Today she talks about her own experiences through the Covid 19 lockdown period in Adelaide.
My heart has been breaking for our refugees and migrant communities for whom I think that this has been a very triggering situation. Most of these communities have come from struggling situations like war, we are talking about insecurity with food, safety, violence, really we have had to go through a lot and now we are seeing this situation happening.
What is quite worrying for me as I have been talking to grandmas and grandpas and aunties and uncles is that they are struggling. This is bringing up a lot of post traumatic PTSD stuff for them, the anxiety is real, people are saying they are having nightmares, I’m having nightmares and I look after my mental health.
I really worry about the impact that this will have on women who are vulnerable to domestic and family violence where English is not their first language. We know that COVID has amplified what was already a national epidemic in regards to domestic and family violence. But all the adverts and campaigns won’t reach them because they are not accessible and culturally inclusive.
Within our communities there is lack of awareness of what constitutes domestic and family violence. We use the word ‘violence’ but most people assume that is physical violence. We don’t then go on to talk about emotional violence, sexual violence, spritiual violence, cultural violence, financial abuse, and all the things used to control you as a woman.
When we use this terminology they don’t translate across cultures, because what I grew up with was being told a man beating his wife was discipline. So if you put a group of my aunties together and talk about domestic or family violence they don’t know what you are talking about. They do not know what the conversation is about: “I am okay, I am surviving this, this is just what relationships are”.
What I am trying to do particularly is work out how do we get information back to the community in a way where we can not only empower women, but also empower communities and their families. It’s not just about one individual, one member of our family who isn’t safe or healthy. Our approach has to be family focused in a way that allows us to heal families and we work with everyone within those family settings so that we can keep women and children safe.
One of the things I have done is go back to my past clients to say look I can’t do face to face work obviously given the restrictions we have but what if we do online training what if we do online workshops, what if we do resources in simple English, what if we go online, take all of what I’ve done traditionally face to face and just move it online so we can keep getting that key messages out there around safety wellbeing and healthy families and healthy communities.
For some community members looking after their mental health may not have been a priority. They may not have even dealt with what they have gone through in the past, but here we are finally thinking that we are safe and we are okay, and suddenly there is food insecurity, they can’t see their grandkids. These people come from communal cultures – they need people. Everyone is constantly at everyone’s houses eating and laughing. It is how our cultures keep going – grandparents pass on stories about our lives and where we have come from. There has been such an interruption to our quality of our life and culture and what makes us feel safe and connected
I just feel like in terms of mental health I know lots of organisations have been given money, but do they have interpreters available? Is that information passed down to the community level to say who to talk to that they can call? Would members of that community even want to call these organisations? In my past experience I don’t see my 60 year old Afrian Uncle wanting to call beyondblue to have a chat about how he is feeling.
First he has to recognise that he is struggling, and then because he thinks struggling is normal, this is just what life is. I’ve gone through struggles before, and he is thinking ‘Oh I’m lucky that I am in Australia, it is not that bad’, even though he is having nightmares, angry, not eating properly and he is yelling at everyone he can, because that is the only way he can respond. Mummy is also yelling at the kids because that is the only way she thinks she needs to respond. Are these people going to call beyondblue?
How do we get these organisations to that level, how do we ensure that we are able to provide support within the community system? I have had teenagers call me because at the end of the day, as far as they are concerned, who will understand what they are going through? Who understands that its child abuse in a cultural context? That would be me.
That is where I can support. I can make sure they know how they can take breaks, go to the bathroom and call me “What’s our safe word”, safe words to ensure that Khadija knows. Things like: “Oh, Khadija I liked that top that you wore at that speech”. Okay I now know what you are talking about, you are not listening to my speech, let me call you, let’s hop on messenger and have a chat quickly. What is going on? Can you say you need to go to the shop quickly, can you say you want to buy ice cream, can you say to mum you are happy to do the groceries so that you can take a break from the family?
In Africa, it takes a village to raise a child. I may not be an Aunt who can physically be everywhere right now, but I do not get off my phone because right now this is what saves lives, me being on this Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. I am just across it because the texts comes through and a ping comes which I read and I go ‘What does that mean? What are you trying to say?’ That is how I am trying to reach everyone because with a simple text message I can know who I need to immediately get on the phone to ask what is going on? What is happening in that house? ‘Pass the phone to Mum or Dad. Pass the phone, let me talk to them right now, so I can de-escalate the situation. Or do you just need me to distract you right now? Lets talk stupid things, I can distract you, do you need a meme, do you want me to send you memes for the rest of the day?
I am a believer that I can make everything happen, but what I want to say is we all have to take ownership and make sure that we create contact and systems that allows this to happen because we cannot depend on elected leaders, we cannot depend on state government, we can’t depend on service providers, I haven’t seen these.
Khadija will be holding a three part series of Zoom events in association with the Morella Centre in Adelaide, talking about how we can help marginalised communities throughout this difficult time of social distancing