June 6, 2019

Celebrating the strength of the Chin community

Chin community learn about alcohol issues

Since the mid 1980’s, Australia has celebrated the contributions that refugees make to Australian society, through Refugee Week.1 This annual event provides a platform for sharing, celebrating and acknowledging the richness of ideas, skills and experience that Australia gains through resettling people who have been affected by conflict. This year, Refugee Week runs 16-22 June.

The ultimate aim of the celebration is to create better understanding between different communities and to encourage successful integration enabling refugees to live in safety and to continue making a valuable contribution to Australia.1

To celebrate Refugee Week in 2019, the Alcohol and Drug Foundation takes a moment to acknowledge and celebrate the work of Dawt Tha Sung Thang Eng and the Chin community in Melbourne.

Living in two cultures

Supported by VicHealth, the Alcohol and Drug Foundation initiated a program called Connecting Diversity to investigate different perceptions of alcohol in multicultural communities. Over two years, this project has worked with communities to strengthen primary prevention approaches against alcohol-related harms. The Chin community has been a project partner.

One of the key aspects of this work has been the engagement with the Chin community through the employment of Dawt Tha Sung Thang Eng, a Bicultural Officer.

Dawt Tha has been instrumental in the success of the Connecting Diversity project, through her connection to the community and her deep knowledge of Chin culture. Through her own experiences, Dawt Tha explains that her community has to live in two cultures simultaneously – one where alcohol is readily available and celebrated, and Chin culture, where alcohol is not commonly accepted.

Alcohol is everywhere [in Australia] – availability is really high. We are also new to this country and the knowledge of potential harm is low. Since we arrived recently, some people might feel like they don’t fit in or belong, which can be a risk factor that leads them to drinking.

One of the major concerns is around perceptions, and how people are treated among the community if they consume alcohol.

Stigma is a big issue – people who drink can be really stigmatised. We often put a label on them and it can make them feel like they shouldn’t be involved in the community because they drink. Most of us are Christian, which means we are not supposed to drink.

Every community is unique, and research clearly shows that ethnicity is not a good gauge for understanding drivers for alcohol and/or drug-related harm.2 The differences and tensions in cultural values around alcohol mean that the Chin community, like all communities, has their own unique needs in primary prevention. The goal of primary prevention is to address the causes of alcohol and other drug problems to protect people from developing a problem in the first place.

A risk factor is any attribute, characteristic or exposure of a person that increases the likelihood of experiencing harms from alcohol and other drugs. Perceptions within many communities that inappropriately link alcohol and drug use to cultural values (such as masculinity or belonging) can form a risk factor, as can an individual experiencing many stressors at the same time that overwhelm their resilience. Another important risk factor to consider is the lack of stability and security that refugee communities can experience when resettling in a new country following departure from conflict zones.

Dealing with the complexities of resettlement is something that different refugee communities may have in common, but it is not effective to approach primary prevention for all refugees in the same way. Working to support cultural connections and capacity of specific communities, based on their unique strengths, is key in preventing harms of alcohol and other drugs.

Strong community spirit, through thick and thin

Through Connecting Diversity, Dawt Tha has worked to engage with Chin community members to better understand which primary prevention approaches are needed in reducing alcohol-related harm. This has included evidence-based methods for community engagement, resulting in meaningful connections, increased understanding of local issues and the development of leadership within the community. This togetherness is not new to the Chin community however, as Dawt Tha highlights:

We have a rich culture and really value our culture a lot. We are always there for each other through thick and thin. Most of us belong to a Church within the community which means that we help each other a lot. The belonging to a Church and a religion is a protective factor for the Chin community.

It is the persistence, strength and courage of Chin refugees that keeps the community resilient and connected. Activities like Church, community-organised sporting competitions and sharing cultural knowledge (for instance, through the volunteer-run Chin Broadcasting Network and historical projects) promote a sense of wellbeing and belonging, which are protective factors for members of Chin cultural communities, and also underpin their positive contributions to society more broadly. Dawt Tha’s work is a demonstration of primary prevention in practice, and how culture and religion can be a protective factor from alcohol-related harm among the Chin community.

  1. Refugee Council of Australia. (2019). Overview.
  2. Loxley, W., Toumbourou, J. W., Stockwell, T., Haines, B., Scott, K., Godfrey, C., . . . Williams, J. (2004). The Prevention of Substance Use, Risk, and Harm in Australia: a review of the evidence. Canberra: Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing.

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