Fleeing unrest leads to delivering new life in western Sydney- Harmony Week 2021

Westmead Humans of the Hospital Nelma Galas (Maternity Liaison Officer)

When Nelma Galas escaped political unrest in the Philippines in 1989, she knew she was making one of the hardest decisions of her life by leaving her parents, siblings and extended family behind.

With Harmony Week 2021 being celebrated in Australia this week, the Maternity Liaison Officer at Westmead Hospital reflects on how this decision helped her work in one of the most culturally diverse areas of NSW.

“Being able to speak Filipino has been a huge advantage because I am able to help support women from my community,” she said.

“I am frequently asked by staff to help them engage with Filipino patients to explain the processes of their healthcare.”

Eleven years after her move to Australia, Nelma completed a Master of Arts Communication and Cultural Studies at Western Sydney University. She then joined Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD) as a Maternity Liaison Officer to work with refugee, migrant and culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities.

The single mother first learnt her skills in the Philippines – obtaining her Bachelors in Nursing and Midwifery before practising midwifery in the remote island of Caluya where she provided midwifery and immunisation services to the community.

“In our community we didn’t have any general practitioners. Health workers, doctors, nurses and midwives relied on their hands-on skills and knowledge. We had limited access to equipment or supplies – it was a very poor part of the country,” she said.

 “Being a Maternity Liaison Officer in Australia is amazing compared to the Philippines. Here we have one of the most comprehensive healthcare systems that offers a range of services from general to preventative healthcare, through to treating more complex conditions that require specialist or hospital care.”

“I am thankful and grateful to be an Australian and proud to be part of a wonderful workforce which supports vulnerable communities like mine.”

“Harmony Week is about valuing people for what they bring to the country and how they contribute to the society.” – Nelma Galas, Maternity Liaison Officer.

Until the COVID-19 pandemic, Nelma returned to the Philippines every year to visit her family and has been heavily involved in her medical mission volunteer work with the Philippine Nurses Australia Association and Rotary Australia Community Services.

The mission provides medical services and supplies to some of the most underprivileged areas in the Philippines.

“For me Harmony Week is about valuing people for what they bring to the country and how they contribute to the society. Let’s celebrate our uniqueness and value our togetherness,” she said.

“I always blamed myself and thought it was selfish to leave my family and move to Australia but what kept me going was that I needed to keep my daughter safe and give her a future where she can thrive and live her life to the fullest.”

WSLHD provides health services to people with different birthplaces, backgrounds, languages and religious practices with over 47 per cent of the district’s staff indicating that English is their second language.

This year’s Harmony Week theme is “Everyone Belongs” representing inclusiveness, respect and a sense of belonging.

Here are some of the Harmony Week activities happening in western Sydney this week:

15 through 21 March 9am – 8pmCity of Parramatta Libraries
1 Fitzwilliam Street Parramatta
Celebrate Harmony Week with displays, digital events, showcasing the CALD community and acknowledgement of staff diversity.
17 March 10.30am – 12.30pmElara Community
Elara Blvd, Marsden Park Schofields
To celebrate Harmony Week for the first time in our Elara Community, we will be having a free public event open to all including parents, grandparents, children and carers. Our Elara Community is growing and we like to celebrate our Community diversity where “Everyone Belongs”. There will be a fun story session, followed by an art and craft activity focusing on celebrating diversity. There will be a focus on the theme of “Everyone Belongs”.
20 March 10am – 12pmMorning tea with Korean Dessert and Filipinos
2 Mills Street, Lidcombe
Residents of Lidcombe, Strathfield, and Silverwater and nearby will be invited to morning tea with Korean Dessert and Philippines cuisine. Dr Fiona Martin MP of Reid will be invited to share the spirits of Australian harmony. A priest from St Joachim Catholic Church will attend and maybe a councillor of this region will be invited too. There will be some traditional games from a few countries and a discussion about migrants’ perceptions and attitudes to Australia. There may be some traditional music performances too.
21 March 10am – 11amThe Granville Centre
1 Memorial Drive Granville
Community event for Harmony Week.