Unmasking cultural nuances: Will I be looked after?

21 June 2022

When Omar Farah tested positive for coronavirus, he wasn’t just worried about what the disease might do to his body. 

The Australian-Somali translator trusted his vaccinations would protect him from becoming seriously ill, but he didn’t feel as confident that doctors and government officials would do the same.  

“That feeling was there: would I be looked after? That’s a question I had to ask myself,” he recalls.

It’s a line of questioning many Australians never have to consider. Will the faces behind clear shields and white masks treat you the same as those born in the country you call home? Can you rely on the government to provide the care others expect without a second guess? 

Ask Omar today and he’ll answer with an unequivocal ‘yes’. Fully recovered, he’s taken on the mission of sharing his story with the rest of Melbourne’s Somali community – spreading it across email, Facebook and in personal circles. 

“I try to educate and tell people that I – a member of this community – have been treated in this way regardless of my colour and my creed,” he said. 

Due to his age and an underlying health condition, Omar was assigned a team who conducted regular check-ins on his temperature, blood pressure and oxygen. The treatment was not out of the ordinary, but in Omar’s eyes it was unexpected.

“Any hesitations I had were taken away by the medical officials who were communicating and taking care of me during that time,” he said. 

“That kind of thing is not easily forgotten. They made sure I was okay, that I was recovering well and that my family was taken care of.”

Omar’s surprise at the level of care he received reflects a wider sense of uncertainty for not only the Somali community, but for anyone who has experienced discrimination beforeWhen the bulk of information about an unfamiliar virus comes from a group of uniformed officials who don’t look like you, speak like you or understand your culture, the gap between assurance and apprehension is squeezed tighter. 

The doubt still hangs heavy: will I be looked after? 

Uncertainty like this is dangerous. Last October, the ABC reported on lives lost across Melbourne’s Somali and Arabic-speaking communities, where a lack of trust in health officials prevented people from seeking help. It’s one of the countless reasons why providing multicultural communications has been critical to Australia’s COVID-19 response.

CultureVerse has seen first-hand the impact this can have – we spent the bulk of the pandemic delivering vital COVID-19 information to over 58 communities, in over 58 languages. We couldn’t have done any of it without individuals like Omar Farah, one of many in a network of community leaders and translators ensuring each life-saving message would make it to the front line. 

“When the virus arrived, many people in the community were unsure what to do and how to do it, and they got scared because there were rumours all over the place,” he explained. 

Working with locally-based translators was integral to developing clear messaging that would hit home and keep everyone safe. The pandemic has shown us that there is a face behind the mask and a person to speak with in each community.

For Omar Farah, and the rest of the team here at CultureVerse, our work is still not done. We’ll keep centring the diverse experiences of every Victorian and Omar will continue sharing his impactful story with his community.


This article has no affiliation with any government entity. 
The intention of the article is solely to share the personal story of one community member’s experience, and to highlight the importance of community engagement when delivering multicultural communication.