A TEAM of workers at Sunraysia Mallee Ethnic Communities Council (SMECC) has been hard at work translating information on the coronavirus and COVID-19 vaccines for Sunraysia’s seasonal worker community.

“A lot of people, the first time I met them, said no (to the vaccine),” SMECC pastoral care worker Kunnika Powell said.

Ms Powell has been working long hours, including at weekends, to make sure workers in Sunraysia have access to up-to-date information.

For her, the importance of communicating accurate information about the virus is personal.

“Back home in Thailand, the situation is very bad,” she said. “There are 20,000 new cases a day. Delta is spreading really fast.”

In her role, Ms Powell shares information about the coronavirus with a group of 84 local seasonal workers using Line, a social messaging app popular among the south-east Asian community.

She also connects with people using Facebook, phone and in person on farm visits.

She said initially it was hard to gain people’s trust, but after months of careful communication the program was having breakthroughs.

“This weekend we had 92 people vaccinated,” Ms Powell said, including people from Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, China, Cambodia, Laos and Brazil.

The latest numbers add to 250 people already been vaccinated through the SMECC program.

Pastoral care co-ordinator Corey Iredale said he would be surprised if 10 per cent of those people would have been vaccinated without SMECC’s work.

“As soon as we get new information from the government – it might be about lockdown, it might be about wearing masks, it might be about rule changes – we put the information out in their language.”

He said it had been a challenge reaching workers who were undocumented.

“If you’re a non-English-speaking, no Medicare card (holder) who is working under the table, how do you get vaccinated?” Mr Iredale said.

In partnership with Sunraysia Community Health Services, SMECC has organised “no questions asked” vaccination clinics.

SMECC’s pastoral care program is funded by the Victorian Government until December to support seasonal workers.


By: Else Kennedy

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