A community pharmacist has spearheaded a project that links vulnerable people with social support, and provides education to combat Covid-19 conspiracy theories
Sydney pharmacy owner Veronica Nou has launched The Good Connections Project, providing a series of sessions where at-risk people get to meet and chat in a Covid-safe with other people in her local community.
Ms Nou’s pharmacies – Morris Care & Advice Pharmacy and Colyton Centre Pharmacy in Western Sydney – established the project with support from community groups, including Mums 4 Refugees (NSW branch), the local school and a local church.
They received a grant from Penrith City Council of just over $6000 to run the sessions.
“People were scared, people were isolating themselves from one another, they weren’t talking to each other,” Ms Nou told AJP.
“We decided to target people who were lonely, who were isolated, maybe people who didn’t have very much family, people who were struggling financially, people who were already on concession cards that we knew were having problems.”
St Mary’s Baptist Church provided a hall for free where the program is held, which freed up the grant money to be able to feed participants, pay speakers and provide tangible support as well.
For example, every attendee goes home with a take home box valued at about $150 filled with fresh fruit and vegetables, groceries, toiletries, cleaning supplies, hand sanitiser, face masks and toilet paper, provided free of charge.
Participants also provided information for local services in various areas where people may need additional assistance.
During the pandemic, Ms Nou had noticed a rise in racism towards the migrant community, and even experienced some directed towards herself.
Misinformation about the Covid-19 virus was also rife among her community, which she observed while encountering patients in the pharmacy.
Ms Nou said about one third of attendees were people of cultural and linguistically diverse (CALD) background. Each session was led by someone of migrant, refugee or asylum seeker background who also provide a lesson in healthy cooking.
Meanwhile pharmacists provided information on health and combatted Covid-19 myths.
She said the point of the sessions “wasn’t to get people there and lecture them”.
Rather it was to link people up with others in the community who were in a similar situation, to allow them to share stories with one another and find a basis for commonalities, and to boost health literacy and healthy eating practices.
“It has been really, really successful,” she said.
Ms Nou said people in the Western Sydney region are not greatly served by State and Federal services in the region, and there is a lack of trust in institutions and authorities.
“There’s very little trust in them,” she told AJP.
“If the authorities then come to you and say, hey you can’t do this and you can’t do that in your life because of this [Covid-19] that has happened, it’s very hard for you to – especially when you’re struggling already – to change everything just because you have to trust what’s being said.
“Especially if you’re from the migrant community, a lot of people have come here because the government in their country were very corrupt, maybe actively persecuting them.”
They have so far run a pilot session in November, with more sessions to come beginning in mid-January 2021, running every fortnight from that time. Ms Nou hopes to secure more grant money for the project to continue past the six-session mark.
“I often wish that pharmacy would come out from the four walls of the pharmacy and be engaged a little bit more in the community and be willing to speak out on other social issues,” she said.