Australia

While fearing for their families back home, Italian-Australians are helping those in need here

Maria Gaudiosi (right), 92, hasn't left her Sydney property since the coronavirus outbreak. She relies on visits from Elena Scappatura (left) at Co.As.It. Source: SBS News

As Italy grapples with the devastating impacts of the coronavirus outbreak, a Sydney not-for-profit is offering online counselling support for Italian-Australians here who are struggling.

These days Sydney woman Elena Scappatura visits about 100 other Italian-Australians across the city each week. 

Most of the time, she delivers them groceries or pops in to say hello, while following social distancing measures. Other times, she phones them for a quick chat. 

It is keeping her mind occupied as her own family try to cope with the coronavirus outbreak in Italy. Her brother lives in the country's worst-hit city, Bergamo. 

"I just ring every day to make sure they’re okay and thank God they are," she told SBS News.

"They tell me they’re going crazy [while in lockdown] and that’s probably going to happen to us." 

Community support worker Elena Scappatura
Community support worker Elena Scappatura.
Charlotte Lam/SBS News

Hopes that Italy’s COVID-19 epidemic might be in retreat have suffered a setback this week as the confirmed cases surpassed China and the number of deaths continues to rise. 

Ms Scappatura works for not-for-profit organisation called Co.As.It, which offers linguistically and culturally appropriate services for Italian-Australians.

She normally runs daytime activities for older clients, but with mass gatherings banned and most venues now closed, her role has been diversified into offering support to those most at need in her community. 

"My clients are confused because this is something that has never happened before so they say ‘how could have this happened?’" she said.

"They worry about the people they’ve got in Italy, or wherever they are in the world, and they all ask the same thing ‘how could this happen?’"

"But we got no answers for that, do we? You talk to them and try to explain that it will end and we will come out stronger.”

 

Sydney resident Maria Gaudiosi
Sydney resident Maria Gaudiosi, 92, has been too frightened to leave her home.
Charlotte Lam/SBS News

In the suburb of Russel Lea, in Sydney's inner-west, Ms Scappatura visits Maria Gaudiosi.

The 92-year-old has chosen to self-isolate because she's afraid to leave her home amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"My son called me: 'Mum, stay home, do not go out. Do not talk to people'. What can I do? It is a terrible this thing," she said. 

"I will turn 93 years old in August, yeah, 93, and I cannot do all the things."

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Co.As.It's general manager Thomas Camporeale said many of its services had to be ramped up and modified to better support Italian-Australians. 

"We’re seeing what’s happening in Italy, it’s unfolding before our eyes and it’s changing rapidly," he said.

"The Italian community here, which is so connected to Italy, is really suffering. People are very traumatised, they have parents there or siblings there who are describing the horror these communities are experiencing."

Psychologist Emily Maher says Australia's Italian community is suffering.
Psychologist Emily Maher says Australia's Italian community is suffering.
Charlotte Lam/SBS News

With more than 75,000 people being tested for COVID-19  in New South Wales alone, Co.As.It psychologist Emily Maher has moved her sessions online using the video call platforms Skype and Zoom.

She has been talking to Italian-Australians around the country and Co.As.It has also been contacted by desperate residents in Italy amid the national lockdown. 

"Being able to talk to someone and have a friendly face in their day has made a big difference, I think - no matter how far away you might actually be," she said.

“Specifically in the Italian community, our values are family and food and both of those things have been impacted by the virus because we can’t be together right now.”

Ms Maher said while there is a lot of concern for older people during the COVID-19 crisis, many younger Italian-Australians are suffering in silence. 

“Most of them have been living in Australia anywhere from about six months to a couple of years, and they are usually working in the hospitality industry, so a lot of them have faced job losses during this time and they’re also concerned for the parents and siblings overseas,” she said. 

Co.As.It psychologists are running sessions online for Italian-Australians.
Co.As.It psychologists are running sessions online for Italian-Australians.
Charlotte Lam/SBS News

Mr Camporeale said Italian-Australian workers had been amazing in coming together for their community. 

"A lot of our staff are aged care workers or health workers or teachers, and I think they’re the professions that are under the most pressure at the moment - but they’re the professions that are really shining," he said. 

"It’s a great sense of pride to see, you know in such tiring times, a community, staff or a broader community could come together. If there’s one positive, it’s been that."

Ms Scappatura said they were prepared to support as many people as they can for however long it takes.

"Well, we always do our best, but now we have to do better than our best."

Australians must stay at least 1.5 metres away from other people. Indoors, there must be a density of no more than one person per four square metres of floor space.

If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor (don’t visit) or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus

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