“Being a bicultural worker is about supporting communities. We’re helping people and we’re connecting with them. The program is from the community, for the community.”
cohealth employs bicultural workers to use their cultural knowledge, language skills, experience, and community connections to work with people who they share a lived experience with. They elevate community voices and advocate for community needs, while co-designing and delivering programs that share information and facilitate cultural safety
Mona Adnani-Salehi is a bicultural worker who started working closely with the refugee health team in 2022. In this role, she supports refugee clients to access and navigate the health system and delivers health programs and events for the communities she works with.
Mona initially worked with just Arabic communities, but she has been able to use her language skills to work with other Islamic communities. She says this work is her passion.
“I love it. I love everything about this job,” says Mona. “Especially when I’m working with my community and my community comes back to me and says, ‘we feel supported, and we are happy here’.”
Tenzin Khangsar, the former president of the Tibetan Community of Victoria, is another Bicultural Worker embedded in the refugee health team. Tenzin’s background as an interpreter helps support the health and social needs of refugees in his community, delivering projects and one-on-one support based on their needs.
“As a bicultural worker, I understand the needs of my community,” says Tenzin. “It’s important for my clients to be able to speak their own language, and with me they can.”
Every week, Mona and Tenzin are delivering projects designed to bring health and wellbeing benefits to their communities, and in those sessions they can see the true impact of their work.
“At a recent Mother’s Day art workshop, there was a woman from Afghanistan who was feeling very lonely,” says Mona. “But during the session she was happy. She could paint and access health information. Afterwards she sent me a message to say that she enjoyed her time and she felt connected and supported.”
“This is everything to me.”
Similarly, Tenzin says that his weekly yoga and mindfulness sessions are helping his community. Initially, these sessions were run by an instructor from refugee support organisation Foundation House, and Tenzin would provide support by explaining things to participants and helping them understand the instructions. After 10 sessions, Tenzin was able to take over and run them himself.
“The sessions are going great,” he says. “People love coming and they tell me that their physical and mental health is improving.”
Other projects being delivered include hydrotherapy sessions, English conversation classes, oral health sessions at a playgroup, and a community kitchen that provides free meals. These projects connect people in the community and empower them to improve their own health and wellbeing.
Alongside their projects, Mona and Tenzin deliver one-on-one support to community members, helping them with health appointments and other processes that are often hard to navigate like Medicare, Centrelink, rental applications and citizenship.
“Sometimes people go to the GP and they get told they need other scans or tests,” says Tenzin. “So I help them to book these in and find out where to go. Sometimes I go with them if they need extra support, so I can help them fill in forms and speak to the doctor.”
Alongside this practical support, Mona says what bicultural workers are able to give is the gift of connection. By running these events, and working with people one-on-one, they are helping members of their community feel less alone.
“In many different communities, people feel lonely,” she says. “When you are not connected with the rest of your community, you can develop mental health issues. You can feel stressed, you can feel sad, you can feel like you’re not supported.”
“So I try my best with each session to talk to people, invite them in and let them know that they are supported and that I am one of them.”
The bicultural program was started in 2017. In 2022, cohealth and other organisations were funded to employ bicultural worker in refugee health teams. Since 2022, this bicultural refugee health program has: