Neighbours play an important role in Arabic-speaking countries, sharing feasts and celebrating life events, often outside their homes. Coffee is the drink traditionally served in Arabic cultures to welcome guests.
To support a group of Arabic-speaking women in Canberra, Muataza Alwali, a Sudanese woman working for Woden Community Service, has convened an online group providing training, guidance and information to group members.
The group, named ‘Coffee Conversations’, is designed to replicate the vibrant community occasions missing in a COVID-19 world. The small group of Arabic-speaking women meet each week using WhatsApp. Members of the group enjoy a traditional coffee in their own homes, creating a welcoming atmosphere while chatting.
Muataza has spent the last six years helping to connect members of the Arabic community in Canberra. After the death of her brother in 2013, Muataza reflected on the differences between neighbours in Australia and Arabic countries. She was concerned that some Arabic speakers may be feeling lonely in Canberra.
With the support of Woden Community Service, Muataza created opportunities for people from different cultures to support each other. This has included a weekly playgroup for women from different backgrounds from which Coffee Conversations grew. Muataza says she is delighted to see members of the group sharing information and tips and become close friends during COVID-19.
“All the women participating in Coffee Conversations share the extra challenge of social isolation due to language barriers. Finding time to learn English can be hard for mothers of young children and Coffee Conversations provides them with the opportunity to talk to others in a similar situation in their native tongue.”
WhatsApp was chosen for use by the group as it was familiar and easy to use. The challenge in using this technology was that it limited the number of women who could participate. However, Muataza says this has been outweighed by the depth of sharing and support among the group resulting in strong friendships.
“The group has talked about the restrictions put in place due to COVID-19, how to help their children with school work by setting schedules and limits, shared parenting tips and other information. Lifelong friendships are being formed. The women now catch up outside the group, sharing shopping tips and other useful information.”
As well as learning new skills, the mums have been able to create some time for themselves. Their children now all know that Thursday at 1:00 pm is ‘mum’s time’. The children have also got to know each other and now meet on WhatsApp an hour beforehand.
The value of the service is evident in the comments to Muataza about the group:
“We are so grateful to have you in this difficult time, we learnt from you a lot, exactly about time management for parents with children in COVID-19 and general.”
“Thank you, you are the one who helps me to have an energy to do what I need to do for my family and encouraged me to take care of myself.”
“I feel I have a hope to be in this world and started to think deeply why I do not value my role as a mother. I am doing a great job for whole community. Thank you for waking me up.”