Participants Kafia and Nadifo take part in an education session

A group of women from Melbourne’s East-African community are getting active, learning about a range of health and wellbeing topics and strengthening community connection, thanks to a program run in partnership by the Western Bulldogs Community Foundation, Victoria University and the East African Women’s Foundation.

The Daughters of the West program has been run by the Western Bulldogs Community Foundation since 2017, but this year is the first edition of the program tailored to 25 women from Eastern Africa.

As part of Victoria University’s VU RISE (Recover, Innovate, Sustain, Evolve) Stronger Communities Innovation Hub, the co-designed pilot initiative has allowed women to gather in a culturally safe and supported environment, to learn about important topics in simple English and Somali, and engage in physical activity.

Topics covered in the 10-week program include mental health, reproductive health, OHS and rights at work, nutrition, and connection to local community services.

Participants also engage in physical activity tailored to their levels of fitness and ability and in manner that is culturally appropriate and fun. This includes stretching, cardio drills, Zumba, and traditional Somali dance.

As well as providing long term benefits to participants, the program provides an opportunity for researchers from Victoria University to better understand how to effectively engage women from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds who are in need of preventative health interventions.

“This research, funded by the Victorian State Government, is part of a larger collaborative project with the Western Bulldogs Community Foundation aimed at addressing the challenges of engaging CALD communities in place-based health and wellbeing programs”, said Lead Investigator Associate Professor Camilla Brockett.

Community voice is at the heart of this participatory action research - identifying barriers and enablers for program participation to create accessible programs that meet the needs and cultural values of community, with the ultimate aim of reducing health inequity in the West.

Alyce Vella, Community Health and Wellbeing Manager at the Western Bulldogs Community Foundation, said the initiative has showcased the power of community partnership and has provided an excellent opportunity for women who may otherwise have faced barriers to health education and physical activity.

“At the Western Bulldogs Community Foundation, we are deeply aware of the need to provide culturally safe spaces for members of our community, and we are also cognisant of the fact that this needs to be developed in partnership with the community.

“By working with Victoria University and the East African Women's Foundation to consult with the community directly, we've been able to take the evidence-based Daughters of the West model and create something truly special for the East African Community.”

Fartun Farah, Chairperson of the East African Women's Foundation, said the program is having a significant impression on the participants.

“This Daughters of the West program makes a huge impact. The women enjoy the social connection while being involved in physical activity and having fun. Community programs like this connect women and make a real difference in their lives.”

The program has also been made possible thanks to the support of Maribyrnong City Council.