Sharing stories of cultural heritage at VASS

Residents at Yooralla’s Ventilator Assisted Support Service (VASS) have been strengthening the culture of inclusion, understanding and respect for all at the service - this time focusing on the vast continent of Africa.

The festivities, which aligned with World Africa Day on May 25, were a great opportunity for customers and staff alike to learn about the cultural heritage of the African team members at VASS.

As this year’s theme was Arts, Culture and Heritage, staff at the service with an African background were encouraged to bring something from their culture, whether it was food, music, singing, dancing, traditional clothing - to share at an afternoon tea and open the conversation about Africa and its significance to who they are today.

Gayna Matthews, VASS Site Coordinator, said the conversations started when Kristy McMurray, VASS Manager, put up coloured maps of the continent of Africa.

“The maps that were put up around the services were a great way for us to start to identify where some of the different staff members at VASS were from and to spark the conversation.

“We have two new staff members here at VASS who are from Africa, and this was a lovely way for new people to share their stories,” Gayna said.

Funmi Akinyemi, a Disability Support Worker (DSW) originally from Nigeria in West Africa, said it was great to share the information about her heritage with staff and customers at VASS.

“It was nice to be recognised, everyone knows about big events like Chinese New Year and Australia Day, but people know less about World Africa Day – including me!” said Funmi.

Ellen Lekera, DSW at VASS, agreed that “as an African employee of Yooralla, in my first months at VASS, I felt good that everyone…was part of the celebrations.

“This year's World Africa day felt different for me because it came at a time when I am not in Africa, but the recognition that was given to this day at my workplace made me feel honoured. I appreciated the celebrations on this day more than ever before,” said Ellen.

“We used the maps that were put up in the service to talk about all the different countries in the continent of Africa. I pointed out where I am from and we talked about all the things that are different in each country,” explained Funmi.

“This include all the different African languages and the different cultures across Africa. Residents were very interested in the different types of food and what I like to eat,” she said.

In keeping with the food theme, residents and staff alike also enjoyed some traditional African food on the day.

Everyone enjoyed the food including “chapati and the stew that was prepared in an African way,” said Ellen.

“Myself and a friend from another African country shared stories regarding the food that was served and how it reminded us of home,” she said.

​​​​​​​“The residents have now asked for me to teach them to cook some traditional Nigerian food as they enjoyed it so much!” Funmi said.

She also shared photos of traditional wedding dress and what happens at traditional African weddings – including her own when she gets married next year!

Being able to share some of her cultural heritage with staff and customers at VASS made Funmi feel “very welcome”.

“It was really nice and makes you feel like part of the team, and that the people you work with and management really care as well,” Funmi said.

Ellen agrees that “the recognition of World Africa day at VASS made me and my African colleagues feel recognised and appreciated in a multicultural and diverse workplace.

“Every time we read about Australia and especially Melbourne, we are informed about its multicultural and diverse characteristics and this was portrayed by this gesture by the management and staff at VASS.

“The celebrations brought us closer to other Africans as well as other people in different ways,” Ellen said.

The conversations have continued past the festivities on World Africa Day, with customers approaching Funmi and other staff members with further questions about their heritage.

Gayna also recognises the importance of the sharing cultural heritage at Yooralla.

“It makes you think about things more carefully, the way that we talk to people. It raises that awareness and makes you think about things in a different way.

“It is really nice to acknowledge that staff have their own story, it really is so special to hear. People want to feel included, welcomed and be heard.

“It really is our differences that makes us the same and brings us together,” Gayna said.

Use of Cookies

We use cookies to enhance your browsing experience and analyse our website traffic. For more information, please read our privacy policy.