The Burmese Family Carers Camp took place from 20 to 22 May 2022 and was our first multicultural specific activity. Amongst the families who attended we had parents, children, grandparents and grandchildren, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. Recognising that the term carer has a different meaning within different cultures, this camp invited members of the Burmese community residing in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne who received and/or provided care within their own families and community. Further, carers and their families could also attend. Just like any other family camp, only a little bit different.

Several language groups, no prior knowledge of support needs and some new volunteers on board. Structure gave way to improvisation as we swapped out respite sessions for family connection experiences. For some, English was not their first language. Participating in the universal languages of singing, dancing, laughter, food and sport helped make up for it. It was fantastic to see everyone settle in quite comfortably from the beginning.

No time wasted on Saturday morning as families were eager to get into the activities. As usual, the giant swing was a huge hit for the whole family whilst the low ropes were very popular with some of our youngest and cutest guests. Archery saw some competitive contenders taking aim, the Circatron (I feel dizzy just writing the word!), trampolines and even the freezing cold pool saw some action. The afternoon warmed up like a great big hug. Blue sky, bright sun and very little breeze made for a relaxing and laid back afternoon. Some families opted to sit on the deck out in the sun, playing cards and enjoying a chat. Some made the short journey into town while others did take a siesta.

The time-honoured tradition of group sporting activities commenced with the usual enthusiasm (and chest beating) to demonstrate one’s skills. This ended with lots of laughter (and a few minor bumps and bruises!) usually at our own expense with the realisation we are not as fit and/or as good at sport as we first thought. Our youngest player, at just two years of age, had a great time during our Friday night basketball match. We thoroughly enjoyed his fabulous footwork skills to avoid Mum and his bedtime routine! A very enthusiastic self-appointed team coach in his 70s had us entertained with many laughs through to the end of our Saturday night volleyball game. Those who were not sweating out on the court were partying the night away in the games room; dancing and singing to Korean beats, playing guitars, pool and table tennis and sharing favourite snacks.

Being outdoors in nature and amongst beautiful landscapes is a favourite with the Burmese community. With this in mind we added a trip to the Nobbies and the penguin parade into their camp experience. I hadn’t been to the island for around 25 years and by my account, the penguin parade stood up to its reputation! It was cold and gusty, making the 10 kilos of extra clothing we each carried worth the wear. Despite the warnings beforehand, every family member attending camp chose to visit the penguins. Lets face it; the weather is part of the experience; you must feel it to believe it!

No sooner had our feathery friends reared their heads from under the waves, everyone was keen to get up and follow their journey from shore to burrow and out of the cold no doubt. The children loved the experience and I apologise for not being able to deliver the Antarctic size specimens some had anticipated.

Our visit to The Nobbies began with a welcoming surprise as I would compare the weather to that of a miraculous phenomenon. Barely a breeze, still waters, no threat of children being blown away and hats stayed on. Amazing! Families took their time with a casual stroll on the boardwalk, regularly stopping to take in the views and surrounding landscape, sometimes stopping on their own for what might have been a personal pensive moment. I felt at peace amongst good company. Like me, they were in no rush to get from A-B; it was a calming and relaxing experience enjoyed by the group. 

Thankfully, as we wanted families to feel comfortable, relaxing was the recurring theme over the course of the weekend. Most had not heard of IOE before, nor ever accessed any formal supports for their care needs. Disability is not what they hold in common but rather their journey from Myanmar to Melbourne. Feedback from our campers has been that they enjoyed the opportunity to meet and make friends, spend time together relaxing and enjoy some time being active and outdoors.

This camp was a great opportunity to introduce ourselves to the Burmese community as a support service for children and families. We hope that, after attending the camp, they would feel more comfortable to approach external agencies if they want or need help to care for someone. By choosing to attend the camp, families did, in a sense, welcome us to be part of their community. It wasn’t only the sunshine, but the entire weekend that felt like one great big warm hug. A group of people sharing something in common becomes a community; brought to life when each person has a sense of belonging.

We are grateful to Victorian Department of Families Fairness and Housing and Migrant Information Centre (Eastern) for their support to make this camp a reality. We also acknowledge the Burmese community and community leaders for their support and participation.

– LucyCoordinator, Support Services Team
Interchange Outer East