CALD to serve – Supporting volunteers from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds

  • by Maria Lopez
  • November 30, 2017

Marist180 is based in Blacktown and works with about 1000 culturally and linguistically diverse clients across the Sydney metropolitan area who are living in the private housing market.

To support their clients they rely on the cultural brokerage of some 90 volunteers.

Angela Bekesi is the National Volunteer Coordinator from Marist180 and she talked today at the challenges of managing a group of culturally and linguistically diverse volunteers as a ‘white girl with blonde hair’.

She explains that cultural brokerage is the act of bridging, linking or mediating between groups for the purpose of reducing conflict or producing change.

This involves being immersed in the cultural diversity of others to understand and ultimately engage with the right people.

“Food festivals, multicultural events, ethnic eateries, poetry slams. If you are asking people to engage in activities outside of their comfort zone then you need to be ready to meet them half-way.

“We have CEOs – cultural engagement officers – as a bilingual resource to connect staff and volunteers, what’s working in our relationship, what’s going wrong, what does this mean – ultimately to break down barriers”.

She outlined a number of insights into volunteer support, amongst them maintaining professional boundaries.

"Our volunteers are there to empower our clients, not to make them dependent on our volunteers. There is a danger that if the client believes that the volunteer will fix all their problems they can become dependent on them and therefore be at risk when complications arise in their housing”.

Getting feedback on the performance of the volunteer from the client is also challenging, as is understanding the cultural variations across the 13 language groups with which Marist180 works.

She offered a word of encouragement for anyone reaching into the CALD community, “you are probably going to offend someone at some time, so just be aware and don’t take it to heart! If you’re not sure, ask. If you know you’ve offended someone, apologise”.

Organisations like the NSW Centre for Volunteering and LEEP can assist with identifying folk from specific culturally or linguistically diverse communities who might be interested in volunteering.

She reminded us that some 9.9 million Australian consumers were born overseas or have one parent who was born overseas.

Angela spoke at a NSW Centre for Volunteering event in The Rocks today.

Pic credit Marist180

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