The issue of serious water shortages and the need to save water by changing our water use habits are challenging messages for most Australians.
Water conservation needs the participation of all members of the community, including migrant groups. For many new arrivals in Australia, attitudes to water usage are quite different to those in their country of origin.
A person whose past life may have involved walking miles each day to obtain their daily water supplies would understandably relish the convenience of turning on a tap in their own home. For others, serious water shortages were simply unheard of in their native country.
As home to many people from non-English speaking backgrounds, Victoria has a real need for culturallyspecific education on water conservation and to share best practice with its diverse communities.
The Western Young People Independent Network (WYPIN) is a community based organisation that assists young refugees and migrants living in the Western region of Melbourne to adapt to Australian life. They were the ideal organisation to engage this audience and assist in facilitating an education program.
A Smart Water Fund grant awarded to WYPIN was used to document the perceptions and knowledge of water conservation amongst 50 young migrant people aged 12 to 25 – a demographic identified by the water industry as high water users.
From this group, 20 people were trained as peer educators to deliver water conservation sessions to young people in schools and community settings in the Western Region of Melbourne. Information was also gathered from participants through interviews and focus groups.
The peer educators were involved in visits to water treatment facilities around Victoria, helping to reinforce their understanding of water management issues.
The project was completed in early 2005 and information incorporated in a report released in February 2006.
The project found that:
- Current water education initiatives do not reach significant parts of the community, in particular, migrant and refugee communities.
- To gain broader success, education programs must target the needs of these communities and understand their different experiences of water.
- Youth and peer education programs are a successful way of communicating the water conservation message to this target audience, making training more enjoyable, interesting and socially acceptable.
- Engaging young migrant and refugee people as peer educators establishes significant links to communities and engages young people in the management of their environment.
“Some of these refugees have come from countries where one person uses just six litres of water a day.
Clearly they have water conservation knowledge to share with us,” says WYPIN project worker, Thao Pham.
The materials and teaching methods developed through this project have a much wider audience for the water conservation message, reaching particpants’ families and school peers.
Approximately 20 per cent of all Victorians are born overseas and 71.1 per cent of all overseas-born Victorians were born in non-English speaking countries.
Therefore, the findings of the report provide valuable learnings for policy development, education and marketing to culturally diverse communities in other parts of the state.
The project also facilitated partnerships between the Smart Water Fund, City West Water, City of Maribyrnong, Western Young People’s Independent Network, Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs and the Department of Sustainability and Environment.
WYPIN will continue to work with City West Water on youth-friendly, culturally appropriate education materials about water conservation and hope to continue facilitating education programs with other schools and young people in the Western region.