About Afri-Aus Care
Afri-Aus Care is an incorporated community charity organisation founded by Selba-Gondoza Luka in 2015. Located in Springvale South, Afri-Aus Care consists of a group of diverse professionals who provide Culturally Appropriate Mental Health assessment and a variety of support services to African Australian youth-at-risk, their families and those from other Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) backgrounds. Afri-Aus Care offers intensive biopsychosocial and wellbeing risk assessment such as counselling, legal/court/post-release community support, alternative education, and employment pathways.
Afri-Aus Care uses UBUNTU guidelines and the Positive Change Model Methodology as foundations in the work we do to assist people to live meaningful lives (Ewuoso, & Hall, 2019; Kuyini, 2013). So what is UBUNTU?
[U]buntu is an essentially relational ethics, which prizes relationships of interdependence, fellowship, reconciliation, relationality, community friendliness, harmonious relationships and other-regarding actions such as compassion and actions that are likely to be good for others, in which actions are morally right to the extent that they honour the capacity to relate communally, reduce discord or promote friendly relationships with others, and in which the physical world and the spiritual world are fundamentally united. (Ewuoso & Hall, 2019, p. 93)
Afri-Aus Care provides Culturally Appropriate programs in all their UBUNTU community projects, and as a result, the organisation has been able to reach the African Australian community at the grassroots level. Afri-Aus Care also work in collaboration with private and public stakeholders (for example, various government bodies, Rotary clubs, and other educational institutions) to reach their strategic goals.
Afri-Aus Care provides placement opportunities for tertiary students from various educational institutions in Victoria, including RMIT, Monash University, Chisholm, Holmesglen, Swinburne University of Technology, Stott’s College and Victoria University. Afri-Aus Care also works with the University of Melbourne (AREiA), the Swinburne University of Technology, and the Psyche Foundation on a number of research and evaluation projects.
Afri-Aus Care and RMIT Partnership
Afri-Aus Care has been working in partnership with RMIT University since May 2019. During this partnership RMIT has assisted the organisation by providing offsite liaison staff, field educators, and supervisors. Afri-Aus Care has been providing the task supervision.
During 2020, Afri-Aus Care hosted 18 Master’s/Bachelor of Social Work, Youth Work, and Psychology students. During their placement students were able to develop and enhance their social work skills and understand culturally appropriate service provision to African and other CALD communities. Afri-Aus Care provided students with an in-depth knowledge and understanding of traditional African culture and the use of the UBUNTU philosophy and the Positive Change Model Methodology (Onsando et al, 2020; Ewuoso, & Hall, 2019; Kuyini, 2013). During the first week of placement students were given an online information session about placement at Afri-Aus Care. The students were then given a task to research UBUNTU, to enable them to understand the African belief system, and subsequently apply the principles and guidelines learnt when connecting with members of the African Australian community for case work.
Unfortunately, at the start of 2020 Victoria went into a strict lockdown due to Covid-19. Due to lockdowns, there was a risk of all student placements being ceased. However, Afri-Aus Care’s management team thought innovatively and had numerous meetings with the RMIT social work department to offer an alternative approach to placement for the students. The alternative approach was to offer online services. Culturally sensitive case work often requires face-to-face community centred engagement, so adapting to online delivery posed a challenge. The shift to online case work caused anxiety for many students. Some students were not sure whether it was the most appropriate step to take. The RMIT placement team employed a qualified off-site supervisor who worked closely with Afri-Aus Care’s team and the students. This staff member conducted intensive research on UBUNTU and trauma centred practices. At Afri-Aus Care this practice is translated as the Positive Change Model Methodology.
Despite initial concerns, within a few weeks the students adapted to the online placement, supported by weekly meetings with Afri-Aus Care task supervisors and the RMIT placement team. Extensive support was provided by RMIT via regular agency and student communication. Students were encouraged to take regular breaks from the screen and to connect regularly with their supervisors. The students were then introduced to online and zoom participant health and wellbeing assessments. Once the students were familiar with the assessment tools, they were introduced to some of the participants. The transition from face-to-face assessment tools to online participant engagement provided some positive, as well as challenging situations for students and the agency.
The challenges included distributing food to multiple local government areas, supporting young people in prison (who were there because they were not able to cope with lockdown), and not all people had sufficient resources to be supported on line. We were also not able to run programs like the black Rhinos Basketball Club. Black Rhinos Basketball Club is a crime prevention basketball club; they meet at Dandenong Basketball Association and during lockdown of course, no basketball so we had a lot of challenges. The challenging scenarios regarding online supports (where people preferred face to face) were quickly resolved by reassuring both the students and the participants that the online assessment was the only way of assisting the participants due to restrictions. For students, there were also ethical challenges such as confidentiality and client recording when they are working away from the office. Strategies were developed to manage this, including the development of procedures about how to manage client records. Some participants were able to receive support, other participants reported they no longer wanted to be supported. Students were allocated to support other participants in place of those who indicated they no longer wanted support.
One particular student had an outstanding outcome; she connected extremely well with a domestic violence participant who was homeless, had no money for rent, no food, and was disconnected from her family. The student quickly learnt and applied the UBUNTU technique of storytelling using Selba-Gondonza Luka’s traumatic family violence history:
After suffering from postnatal depression and the loss of her 7-month-old daughter, she then had to spend time in a psychiatric hospital receiving treatment for Major Depressive Disorder and Generalised Anxiety Disorder. While Ms Luka was admitted to hospital, in an unfair decision her employer terminated her employment contract. Ms Luka’s job loss not only aggravated her mental health but also led to family violence which unfortunately caused the family breakdown and disconnection between her and Kwacha, her only daughter. But none of these traumatising experiences could defeat her (Kutchel 2021).
As a result of the UBUNTU storytelling technique and assessment, the participant received culturally appropriate counselling online. She was referred to a General Practitioner where she received appropriate diagnosis, and further referred to a psychologist where she received treatment for 12 months. Her housing situation also improved with the student’s assistance under the guidance of Afri-Aus Care’s staff. A private stakeholder was eventually able to provide the participant with a one-bedroom apartment, and six months’ rent in advance to help her stabilise her life, Afri-Aus Care continues to monitor her situation. This participant referred her mother to Afri-Aus Care’s Empowering African Women: UBUNTU In Practice program. Students from RMIT also made a video detailing Afri-Aus Care 2020 placements projects (Afri-Aus Care 2020). RMIT Social Work placement team were constantly in contact with Afri-Aus Care to ensure students were supported at the UBUNTU community.
The following reflections are from those students who completed placements with Afri-Aus Care in 2020:
My first placement was with Afri-Aus Care Inc., coming from an African background it was not difficult to understand the cultural requirements, which gave me opportunity to easily offer support to people from same cultural background. However I was not aware of the power of UBUNTU mentoring. This was something that I was really excited to learn. As this was my first placement, I thought it would be structured and closely supervised but Covid-19 proved difficult. I had a lot of independence and worked closely with my supervisor and task supervisor from the agency. During my placement I was able to participate in intake, assessment and develop support plans. The main goals were to help the African community in managing mental health issues in a new country with a different culture. With the help of my task supervisor, I was able to make referrals for clients to a variety of services; this benefited community members as they could be referred to culturally appropriate health services and get the assistance they required.
What captured my attention was the fact that the agency had an English teacher who taught the Mama’s English for the Empowering African Women: UBUNTU In Practice program, Afri-Aus Care uses this program to teach African Australian women softs skills, and gets them job ready, and then also assists them in finding the women employment.
At Afri-Aus Care employees, students, volunteers, and members of the African Australian community participate in group community activities, where everyone comes together to partake in shared traditional African meals (Road Runner Chicken), cooking in the kitchen, gardening etc. By using the UBUNTU guidelines and participating in a collective environment we were able to help participants manage mental health related issues.
Afri-Aus Care community village has a homely feeling; it gives you a completely different working environment. I benefited from this project because it gave me an opportunity to improve my communication skills with the African elders, mamas, and youth. The Afri-Aus Care agency and RMIT partnership came in a timely manner. This gave me an opportunity not only to fulfil my placement hours but learn more about different cultural norms and traditions within different African communities (particularly South Sudanese communities).
Field education at Afri-Aus Care provides students with a diverse range of experiences and learning opportunities. The key learnings during the pandemic are that placements can work remotely and the community can continue to be supported. The agency can continue to support the community via zoom calls and can continue undertaking research. These learnings have strengthened the organisation and provided options for the future if and as required.