Good Practice Stories

Culturally diverse social support groups at Swan Hill District Health

Swan Hill District Health is a regional organisation that took the initiative to organise culturally diverse social support groups.

We support great initiatives like this project and we were delighted to discuss this with Jamie Garahy, Social Support Groups Manager at Swan Hill District Health.

Jamies image 1

Jamie says, “Swan Hill District Health is a 143 bed (including Aged Care) fully integrated rural public health service. Swan Hill District Health employs around 630 staff and service a 100 km radius area with an estimated catchment area of around 35,000 people. Swan Hill District Health is located on the Murray River in rural Victoria 344 km north west of Melbourne.”


What motivated Swan Hill District Health to set up culturally and linguistically diverse social support group?

“For all the groups it was already noted by various staff connecting in with culturally diverse communities, that they were meeting at certain locations, but had limited opportunity to engage with one another to support establishing connections with others. With grant funding to support the new group, we were able to offer an evening Men’s group for the Afghan Community, which meet weekly.”


For which communities do you offer specific language/cultural social support groups and why?

 “We offer An Afghan Men’s Group, which engages local and transient Afghan Men in the Swan Hill region to meet and converse with others. Members play games, particularly Carrom – a Middle-Eastern board game, and share a light meal. This gives the men an opportunity to meet socially with others who have gone through similar circumstances. Many have families remaining in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and have undergone many challenges to try to reunite with them. A staff member recruited initially as a volunteer for the group, has a similar background, and speaks six languages, including Hazaragi, the main language spoken in this group.”


Afghan mens group playing carromba


“We also offer two Italian-speaking groups, Bingo and Card-playing groups, which alternate fortnightly. We have three staff that speak Italian and have a solid understand of the Italian-Australian culture. These groups have been running consistently for more than 10 years, and are well-known within the Italian-speaking local community.”


  Italian Cards group


What are the type of specific activities you offer to seniors from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds?

Jamie: “The activities offered to the Italian groups include Italian card games and Bingo, which they all enjoy playing. We also have occasional outings to local restaurants and trips, along with an Annual Christmas Function.

The Afghan Men’s group share a meal each week together, along with playing Carrom, sharing news with each other. We celebrate the end of Ramadan with a feast together as well as an end of year celebration.”


Afghan Mens group enjoying Pizza


How do you work with seniors from culturally diverse backgrounds in a culturally sensitive manner to get their input on the program activities?

Jamie: “We use translated written information and feedback forms, incidental feedback is passed on to bilingual staff or a phone translator is offered.”


 Where do the local community and the wider society benefit from social support groups?

Jamie: “Social isolation and loneliness is linked to premature death, poor physical and mental health and unhappiness. Frequent social engagement is link to improved overall health and higher satisfaction with life and reduced risk of dementia. Allowing community members the opportunity for socialising with others in a culturally inclusive environment is crucial for improving quality of life and satisfaction.”


Crafties group making cards


Based on your learnings, what advice can you provide other aged care organisations which are considering to deliver similar kind of social support programs?

“Knowing your local community and where there may be service gaps is crucial in service provision, especially for the aged community. They are a vulnerable population, and their needs and wants are valid. Listening to them and their needs is important.”


If you had additional funding, what would you do to further promote positive ageing, foster better social connections, and a stronger sense of belonging for seniors from culturally diverse backgrounds in the Swan Hill area?

Jamie: “We would provide more opportunities for outings and trips for the community. We would provide more opportunity for our clients to attend local events, linking them in with other community groups and local services.”


Some members on a recent outing Silo Tour

Thank you Jamie and Swan Hill District Health for sharing your story.