SydWest Multicultural Service great initiative to engage aging population
Syd West Multicultural Services has been serving the migrants and refugee communities with variety of interesting programs aiming to achieve community engagement. It’s recent innovative program was art therapy for seniors. Having a variety of art forms with colorful paintings and other forms of art, the valedictory function included an exhibition of art work created by the proud participants.
The 12-week course attracted 40 participants from Arabic, Spanish, Korean, Bhutanese, Filipino, Polish and Australian backgrounds. Seniors from various multicultural communities from western Sydney participated in this recent art therapy program. For many participants, this was their first time creating art in decades.
The trainer Ms Valeontis presented an inspiring poem that was written in Arabic by one of the seniors and translated to English. The poem expressed the love for Australia, and concluded with the lines: “All these things live inside me more than I live inside her. She is Australia, I love her and her people.”
The role of art in improving the mental and physical health and their healing nature could be seen from the experiences every participant expressed at the function.
Regina Macaraeg heard about the Syd West Multicultural Service workshops and decided to join for the relaxation benefits. Her stressful upbringing impacts her health to this day, affecting her diabetes and hypertension among other factors. After just three of the 12 sessions she shocked her doctor with the dramatic improvement in her health. Her cholesterol was lower, red blood cell count higher and internal organs healthier. “This art therapy has helped me become healthier, I want to keep going,” she said. In addition to health improvement, Ms Macaraeg said there were many social benefits. “We can express our feelings and respect one another.”
The Chief Executive Officer of Syd West Multicultural Services Elfa Moraitakis said programs like this dispel the misconception that culturally and linguistically diverse seniors do not engage socially. “It’s a non-judgmental space where we can all create and explore, not just with our materials but with ourselves,” she added.
Program organizer Rebecca Qorraj thanked the Department of Family and Community Services for funding the “valuable and inspirational” pilot program. She said the main aim was to reduce social isolation and enhance the well-being of seniors from around western Sydney.
Interesting participant Margaret Clegg lost her eyesight 20 years ago and does not often leave her home since losing her husband 10 years ago. She was unsure about the benefits of art therapy. However, the trainers Kerryn Valeontis and Silvana Wiggins, encouraged her to participate. All three of them were eager to try jointly.
During the programme with trial and error Ms Clegg was able to create art from clay and with pencils, including a drawing of a jacaranda tree, which was one of her last memories of having sight. “When you can’t see, how can you do these things?” Ms Clegg said. “But it’s marvelous what you can do. “It’s something wonderful and something I appreciate that I had the opportunity to do.”
Ms Clegg admitted that the weekly social gathering improved her confidence and independence. It brought forth many emotions as she was able to speak freely about the past with other people. Ms Valeontis said she was inspired and “incredibly moved” by what Ms Clegg shared.
Dr Chandrika Subramaniyan Chair of Syd west suggested Indian communities should avail similar opportunities combining traditional art forms of India.
More details on the Multicultural Seniors Art Therapy Exhibition are available at www. sydwestms.org.au