The Language of Resilience

Maha Sukkar, a senior constable from Victoria Police, opened this session speaking in Arabic, giving people directions and making people feeling uncomfortable and uncertainty, because they did not understand what she was saying.  She brilliantly illustrated the point that language, in situations of high stress is important.

Penny Egan-Vine spoke about the issues that face refugees is a political label, ie crossing the border legitimately. Refugees need  a sense of safety, and this can stay with them for some time, as they have lost everything previously. They may also suffer from trauma, but this is a small proportion. The challenge for disaster managers to make sure how a sense of safety can be restored, for everyone.

Scott Hanson-Easey, from Adelaide University spoke about the use of language, and commented on the development of fact sheets. If they aren’t informed by communities, then they aren’t useful. Translations can be problematic. Some words don’t translate well. Language offers us concepts and frames for experiencing the world around us. Not universal. Australians come form all over the globe, but their experience of risk. Concepts are images that are then formed into language, it gives us a common code, we we can discuss and debate issues and risks and their solutions. Wittgenstein said, the limits of my language are the limits of my world.

Using a community-based participatory research, used a co-learning approach with the Karen community in Nhill. The approach built on their strengths, they wanted a film to reflect what to do and not to with fire restrictions.

Next we heard of research from Tasmania, by Isabelle Bartkowiak-Theron, focusing on training for police to work with refugees, recognising that people in uniform are perpetrators in many refugee’s experiences. Many community members will be looking to contribute and help. Trust is important, and there needs to be a shared language between organsiations.

By a prerecorded presentation, we heard from Shefali Juneja Lakhina who related the experience of a family that arrived in Australia, from a terribly traumatic experience in northern Iraq. While being put into a beach cabin, which appeared nice, but for the family, it felt unsafe, as none of the family could swim. A severe storm made them very anxious, and their case manager suggested calling 000. But they felt as though they couldn’t call them. Refugees are unaware of the natural hazard risk

A project that she coordinated, using a resilient personal mapping tool, identified the needs of newly arrived refugees. There were five recommendations

  1. Provide systematic access to hazard and risk information
  2. Ensure access to safe secure healthy housing
  3. Priorities in home preparedness
  4. Integrate resilience planning across sectors
  5. Adopt person centered approaches to co-learning.

She also spoke about the Co-learning disaster resilience toolkit, which she developed

Asylum seekers as a group were also identified as one particularly most at risk, and difficult to know how to engage with. I highlighted the great work that our Queensland guys have done with asylum seekers.


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