EAWF, like most non-profit organisations, had big plans in 2020! Plans that excited the volunteers and community members alike. One of those plans was to expand on activities for the elderly Somali women in the community. Initiatives planned for 2020 included training sessions, outreach programs and advocacy work.
We have run programs intermittently over the past decade. In late 2018, some of our elderly Somali women and young Somali girls joined together for a camping experience, as part of a story telling project focused on first generation Somali-Australian girls connecting with the elder Somali women, through stories. The stories shared, were fascinating and largely unheard of, because, in Somali culture, stories are shared verbally and seldom written down.
In February 2020, a fortnightly workshop commenced under the supervision of EAWF longstanding member and volunteer, Nadifo Mohamed. Inspired by the camp of 2018, Nadifo planned to capture some of these stories of a vastly different Somali generation and bygone era. The first meet ups took place at Carlton Hall and consisted of ten to fifteen elderly Somali women from Carlton and surrounding areas. During their time with EAWF volunteers, the women were encouraged to share their unique stories for the sole purpose of fostering a welcoming space that validated their rich knowledge. Religious Islamic studies were included to provide spiritual relief for the women. And, true to Somali culture, it was enjoyed with a lots and lots of… chai tea!
One of our core aims at EAWF is to encourage social inclusion for the most vulnerable members in our community—our elderly. We are passionate about countering isolation and building support networks within the East African communities in Melbourne. So, naturally when the COVID-19 pandemic erupted and put a halt to this and most things, we had to come up with a solution to counteract the looming impact of isolation on the elderly Somali women.
Armed with pots of steaming biryani rice, stewed meat and curried vegetables, Nadifo and Chair of EAWF, Fartun Farah, set upon delivering food to the women on the day of the fortnightly meeting. “It was hard to improvise because of the ‘no physical contact’. Most of these women live in high rise buildings”, says Nadifo, but luckily with the help of middle men, it was a smooth transition. Each woman was also provided with the Australian Government fact sheet on COVID-19, translated in Somali. It was important to highlight to the women that there were legal implications surrounding the new paradigm. And so with stern warnings of social distancing and hand washing conveyed through fly screen doors and middle men, the word – and the food – safely reached the women.
Although the restrictions are temporary, we are deeply saddened that our fortnightly workshops cannot continue. Not just because we are idealistic dreamers at a non-profit organisation but because we saw the joy it sparked in the women. Currently, we are doing weekly ‘check in’ phone calls, just to say hello and have a chat. More than anything we want them to know that, in uncertain times, there are still some certainties to find solace in, and one of those is EAWF’s support for the women. And, yes, we reassure them many times that the group will be back!
Until then, we encourage the elderly Somali women to remain calm, take on the challenge of technology (perhaps, this is wishful thinking) and like the rest of the world; just keep scrolling, because it may still be a while yet before we are face-to-face.
Najma is the daughter of EAWF Founder and Chairperson, Fartun Farah. She is a self-anointed lifetime member of the organisation. This blog is her charitable contribution to the organisation. When she isn’t volunteering for EAWF, she can be found nurturing her first love — fiction writing.