The Chinatown Bilingual Support Group was established in 2005 and is unusual in that it is based not on geography, but on a shared culture and language.
The Group has more than 40 active members who travel from all over Sydney to attend meetings on the first Tuesday of every month at the Australian Chinese Community Association Hall in Surry Hills.
“We start each meeting with 45 minutes of exercise or Tai Chi then settle down for a meeting and discussion. Sometimes we have a guest speaker to talk about a subject in Chinese or we have a chosen subject to discuss,” said Group Coordinator Rosanna Ng.
“Then we end our meetings with social time, including tea and Chinese snacks – and sometimes play Chinese riddles or sing some Chinese songs which bring people together as well.”
The Chinatown Group supports a mix of people living with Parkinson’s and carers, particularly since many couples travel long distances to attend. There are also some volunteers helping with the running of the group.
“Some participants in our Group speak Mandarin or Cantonese only with little English. They often feel more comfortable among friends speaking their native language and sharing the same culture,” said Rosanna.
The Group also uses WeChat (a Chinese messaging and social media application) to link participants together. Every year, it hosts a seminar about Parkinson’s in Chinese open to the public. There is also a day outing once a year so participants can get together and enjoy nature.
“This ability to create a positive atmosphere based on culture and language is one of the great strengths of our Group. However, there is also a down-side since people often travel quite far to attend our meetings – and of course that becomes more difficult as their Parkinson’s progresses,” she said.
However, with 15 years of experience behind it, the Chinatown Bilingual Support Group will continue to adapt to meet the needs of its participants.