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COVID-19 is a fault line that has opened up in our lives. In this post, we’ll look into its current impact on aboriginal communities in Australia, and what it means for future community development. Much has been written about how communities have responded to the crisis, with heartwarming anecdotes of neighbours helping neighbours and a resurgence of compassion and solidarity abounding.
Small-scale local groups mobilised quickly to provide immediate support and guarantee that basic requirements for food, medication, and information were addressed, according to recent research. Using social media to coordinate activities and stay in touch with the most vulnerable, informal neighbourhood networks were quickly established. Before more formal programs were developed, and when high-profile national volunteering attempts failed, these local clubs and networks were often the first line of response. Their understanding of the area was invaluable in identifying service shortages and combatting social isolation.
Within communities, new relationships have evolved that may well outlive the immediate crisis, allowing for the emergence of new kinds of self-organised collective action. In cases where face-to-face interactions are no longer possible, online social interaction services such as WhatsApp and Zoom have provided a lifeline. These are now well-known and will be used for community organising as we progress to the next level.
Major Concerns Surrounding Communities Amidst COVID 19
While initial responses have been promising, as the pandemic continues there are a number of unforeseen long-term consequences of our isolation:
- To begin with, while social media has become increasingly important to many people, reliance on these platforms has its drawbacks. Not everyone has access to or is comfortable with technology and reliable Wi-Fi. It also can’t replace the unexpected, informal face-to-face meetings that have been lost as a result of people’s reduced mobility – on the street, in community centres, and in so-called “third spaces.” Many common areas remain locked or restricted, limiting opportunities for accidental and spontaneous community encounters that are difficult to sustain through scheduled online discussions. People are claiming that they have been ‘zoomed out.’ In any event, current evidence suggests that social media and face-to-face communication work best together.
- The fact that “we are not all in it together” is a second problem. With food banks overburdened and an increasing reliance on benefits, the crisis has exposed the fragility and inequity of many people’s lives. People who live in congested housing, are poor, or have precarious jobs are the ones who suffer the most from both the disease and the pandemic’s control attempts resulting in decreased number of Indigenous Literacy and Numeracy. In this sense, going back to the way things were isn’t an option. The situation has brought to light many of the up topics like as ageism, domestic abuse, disability, and mental health. In the following months, there will be a huge disparity in employment and economic security, leading to increased dissatisfaction and frustration. There are serious concerns about the long-term impact of the lockdown and the projected recession on children and young people, who may be more resistant to the illness.
- Third, the development of a strong sense of community is simply one aspect of the picture. On the other hand, we have generational strife, disagreements over public health laws, and debates over the pace and priority for easing lockdown. Cutbacks have damaged community infrastructure in recent years, but community development in various forms has continued to play a role in many of the most vulnerable regions, providing residents with the skills and confidence to step up when needed.
Communities taking action
We’ve witnessed a strong local response across Australia, with community organisations modifying or extending programmes to meet new and significant demand. Community organisations play an important role in providing emergency food, providing Aboriginal Support and supporting victims of domestic violence, as well as assisting people who are forced to self-isolate by providing practical services and information – all while grappling with new ways of working and social distancing measures.
It’s amazing to see community groups play such a powerful, positive, and necessary role when many individuals continue to endure great challenges, especially those who are most at risk.
We also recognise that serious difficulties persist, and that community organisations will require additional support and resources to continue this essential frontline work and assist with recovery in the future.
Staffing concerns, income and reserve depletion, and the need to change to new methods of working remain key concerns, according to groups, and might have substantial repercussions for how they deliver their job now, as well as in the medium to long term. In addition to organisational pressures, organisations have noted an increase in demand for their services, which is expected to persist even when some social distancing measures are lifted.
As we all know, the pandemic’s health, social, and economic consequences will last for a long time. In the future, community organisations will be on the front lines of assisting those who are most vulnerable in their communities.
As the effects of the crisis manifest, it’s critical that they’re recognised, acknowledged, and supported so that their vital job can continue and adapt to the new “normal” that will remain for some time. This entails not only enough, appropriate, and timely resources, but also access to personal protective equipment (PPE) and key worker status if these are required to keep people safe and supported.
We’ve already used the information we’ve gathered to inform how funding and policy might adapt to this catastrophe, and we’ll keep highlighting the needs and priorities of aboriginal communities in Australia in the coming weeks and months. For more info, visit CISAU.