Living experience group program

By Memoona Rafique, Program Manager, Relationships Australia South Australia (RASA).

Under the BBV & STIs programs for mainstream (MOSAIC) and multicultural communities (PEACE) Relationships Australia SA has always organised support groups. PEACE Multicultural services conducted groups for people living with a BBV specially HIV, that were female specific as well as mixed gender groups and so did MOSAIC over past many years. The groups have named themselves as Women’s Lounge, CARE Group and Shared voices.

Both groups would share their lived experience and do several wellbeing activities together. Over the years and specially during COVID groups slowly started dispersing and numbers started reducing to a point where members showed lack of interest. Some of the reasons for this includes high turnover of staff, fear of COVID and mistrust issues, and grief over losing a sense of belonging to a familiar space.

We then consulted all members one by one to seek their interest and found that members were quite interested. Members were also keen on supporting other people living with HIV and hence the idea the organising a meeting with all members came up. The options of bringing both groups together was weighed in and it was decided to be taken to the groups. The end of year celebration was organised and both groups were informed that it would be a joint event. It was interesting how all members from both groups attended. They shared their experiences, encouraged each other and the idea of having future groups together was discussed. It was received very positively, in fact some members said that that would be the only reason for them to continue attending. They also shared that they feel useful and believe that are able to help members of CALD communities navigate the health and social system while living with HIV.

Since then both groups have come together and enjoy joint activities, they have regular health and well-being sessions organised, they do a craft activity together and then end with an expressive therapy session. The groups meet every fortnight on a weekend. Sessions, activities and meet up days are all decided by the group and is regularly reviewed to ensure that most members can attend and participate.  It is a peer led consultative process at every stage and it is interesting to see how members of mainstream and CALD communities, living with the same health issue, face similar challenges differently and respond to them differently as well. The groups have evolved into a support system for the participants where they look forward to connecting, sharing and being helpful towards each other.

There is no doubt that lived experience groups are extremely important and useful as such groups then become a voice of the community and play a very important advocacy role. Over the years the groups have named themselves differently and the current one is named as “Peace and Harmony Group” which is reflection of what this group is, a harmonious, safe closed group for peers supporting each other and having a good time together.

Published: June 2023