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1. Where is Laos?
Laos is geographically situated in the western front of Vietnam and northeast part of Thailand and covers a total land area of 236,800 sq. kilometres. The varied topography of Laos is represented by dense forests, high mountain ranges and the Mekong River. The People’s Democratic Republic of Laos is a communist state (World Atlas, 2009).
2. Immigration patterns
The earliest immigrants from Lao arrived in Australia as ‘Colombo Plan’ students in 1960s and 1970s and were later granted permanent residence (DIAC, 2006). After the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 with the victory of the Communist ‘Pathet Lao Movement’, who still rule the country, many Laotians fled to Thailand where they were placed in refugee camps, awaiting resettlement. From 1975 to 1995 thousands of Laotians from these refugee camps were resettled into a number of countries, including Australia. After 1995, relatively few Laotians have migrated to Australia, as compared with the migration during the 1975-1995 periods. This is due to the decrease in Australia’s refugee intake from Laos. However, whilst the number of refugees admitted to Australia has decreased in more recent times, the numbers of Laotians arriving to Australia under Family Reunion immigration processes or spouse/marriage visas has increased.
3. Resettlement in Australia
The 2006 census recorded 9,370 Laos born people residing permanently within Australia. The distribution by state and territory showed 2,050 Laos-born people live in Victoria. The Lao community in Victoria is scattered throughout Melbourne, but there is a large concentration in the local government areas of Hume and Brimbank (DIAC, 2006).
Of the 2,050 Victorian residents who are from a Laotian background, 5.4% are between the ages of 65-74 years old, 2.4% are over the age 75 years old and 36% are between the ages of 45-64 years. Hence, it can be expected that there will be a marked increase in the number of elderly people from Lao backgrounds over the next decade. It follows that the demand for support services to cater for their needs will also increase considerably. Presently, the Lao community has limited access to support networks and, instead, rely heavily on their families and own community associations for this support.
however. Younger immigrants arriving from 1995 have a high rate of completion of university studies and these people have successfully established themselves in a range of professional fields. at least in their own native dialect. 5. partly because their qualifications were not recognised and partly because of language difficulties. found it difficult to find employment. nurses and clerks. Majority of Laotians can not speak nor understand Hmong language but Lao-Hmong citizens can speak Lao language but only few can write it.6% 6.8% 6. Therefore it is best that Hmong interpreter be used. many Laotians including those with professional skills and qualifications. have little or no English language skills and their main income source is typically Centrelink benefits. This is because in the old Lao kingdom. Older Lao generation rely heavily on their children to provide interpreting support. are likely to have received at least basic schooling and most Lao men can read and write. .1% There are more than thirty dialects spoken within Laos itself. many worked in unskilled manual labouring jobs where opportunities for improving their language and professional skills were limited. Employment history The majority of the Laotian males who arrived in Australia as refugees between 1970 & 1980 were previously public servants. Older Lao men. on the other hand. English proficiency is low in the older Lao generation especially among women. army officers and some politicians.4. Within Australia. As a result. Language and literacy The main language spoken at home by Laos born people in Australia are (DIAC 2001): Lao Mandarin English Other 67. Lao and Hmong are the two predominant Lao dialects spoken. teachers. Following their arrival in Australia. Older (60-70 years) Lao refugees/migrants who arrived in Australia from 1995 under the ‘Family reunion’ immigration stream.5% 19. This creates considerable pressure on the younger members of the Australian-Lao community as they struggle to balance the needs of aging members of the community with the needs of their own young families. Most females were housewives and a small number were teachers. women were largely excluded from any schooling or formal training. lawyers.
It was built when King Say Sethathirath who moved the Laotian capital from Luang Prabang (North of Laos) to Vientiane. Buddha encourages people to follow the . temples are places for peace. Thus this has become significant as ‘The Tradition’ of Lan Xang Kingdom since ‘That Luang’.6. Good karma results in a happy life. December: Boun That Luang this festive event is celebrated yearly in Laos. 2. Thou shall not lie. Thou shall not kill. Thou shall not commit adultery. nor any abusive drugs. the stupatemple that is believed to hold the ashes of Bhudda. Therefore. November: Ork Phansa all monks leave the temples and can travel from place to place. retreat and reflection. 3. 4. During this period no monks are allowed to travel. That Luang is one of the important symbols for all Laotians. For many. Thou shall not consume alcohol. with the involvement of Buddhist prayers and ceremonies. Key religious facts. beliefs and issues Laotians believe ‘Karma equals Deed’. There are five principles that are keys to attaining good karma that are derived from Buddhist teachings: 1. village to village to bless people and to teach Buddhist principles. Thou shall not steal. To have good karma. 5. September & October: Ho khao Padabdinh & Ho Khao Slak Laotians arrange the ‘Offering Ceremonies’ which are conducted by the monks at the temples and pray for their deceased ‘Elders’ to be reborn into the next good lives. Bad karma leads to unhappy living. April: Pimay Lao – New Year BACI is held for well wishing and for young generations to pay respect to the living elders. Religion Laotians are strong followers of Buddhism. it is called ‘SOMMA’. May: Visakha Boosa is celebration of The Birth. Laotians in Australia still celebrate this event without fail. to pray and to listen to his teachings. the Enlightenment and the Death of Buddha. July: Khao Phansa all monks enter Buddhist doctrine/disciplines and remain in the temples until November. Important Festivities February: Makha Boosa a time when all monks and believers gather to pay respect to Buddha. Buddhist teachings apply to all daily living practices. one should not be an extremist in life.
All members of the family are expected to share the responsibilities of looking after their elderly family members regardless of their circumstances and taking responsibility for the elderly is considered to be ‘good karma’. it appears a commonly held view of the community that the traditional role of elders within the community and. has become somewhat confused following immigration to Australia. and grandparents (and even great-grandparents) living within the one residence. and don’t feel comfortable in approaching others for help. transport and guidance around Australian culture and systems. Laotians tend to be reserved. particularly within religious establishments. Family privacy Family privacy is considered to be very important in the Australian-Lao community. communicative and trusting relationships into Lao community groups. This can include doctors or support services. The husband or oldest man is traditionally the head and primary decision maker of the family unit. it can require considerable investment of effort on behalf of the support service provider to build open. Through discussions with the Lao community. Laotians also believe in ‘re-incarnation’ and they believe good karma will send you to be reborn into a good life. and with individual members of that community. It is not uncommon within the Lao community to find children.‘Middle Path’ and to pledge for ‘Peace. Bad karma will send you to be reborn in the lowest forms of life. An elder in the Lao community is perceived as ‘The one with the wisdom of life’ who gave life to their children. parents. They support each other as they did when they were in Laos. Family members are generally reluctant to disclose personal details. in particular. they can at times perceive them to be insensitive of their culture. community members will be reluctant to use interpreters. The position of elders is often undermined due to their dependence on younger members of the community for translation support. their role as community counsellors and decision-makers. Lao elders have stated that their over-dependence on others at times causes family conflict and can lead to a strong sense of isolation. . In many cases. Hence. traditionally do not value demonstrative or loud expressions of feelings. rude and overly intrusive. Culture and traditions The role of the family in the Lao community The Lao community within Victoria is a small and close community. Many Lao elders in Australia hold high positions in the community as ‘cultural representatives’. Family finance and medical conditions are considered to be extremely personal affairs and will not be discussed with outsiders. Pardon and Serenity’. While they generally have a positive attitude toward support service providers. 7.
many Laotians have difficulties in following instructions given to them by their GP about prescribed medication. incidence of illnesses such as strokes. Most elderly prefer traditional or herbal remedies rather than modern western medicine. Because of this cultural expectation. older people who are seriously unwell will often seek assistance from their family and community before visiting a medical professional. Other forms of agerelated physical illness are generally not stigmatised and are accepted as a normal part of life and in line with the Buddha’s teachings. To pay respect to elders is to take care of the old parents / grand parents in their later years. have reported stress. Traditional treatment Within the Lao community. Health issues General health status of the Laotian elderly The overall health of the Lao community in Victoria is good. They rarely sought professional help due to their concerns around family and personal privacy. depression and isolation as being amongst their major mental health concerns. Modern medicine vs. community in Australia celebrate BACI every year. The elderly however. A Lao community worker has advised that as the community continues to age. It is not uncommon for families to refuse to discuss and acknowledge the existence of mental illnesses. It is not uncommon for families faced with a mental illness to strongly resist professional help and. called ‘Somma’. some stigma is attached with mental illness and disability. Lao New Year ‘BACI’ is the most important tradition as it is the day when families gather. in some cases. Elderly Laotians are used to a traditional medicine based system where the treatment can be administered by a wide number of practitioners at a time dictated by the patient. the illness may be attributed to possession by a lost spirit or some kind of inner spiritual conflict. abdomen. between the eyes. These types of treatment can result in bruises or marks on the forehead. memory loss and arthritis have also been reported. base of the nose. cupping or massage. The Lao 8. not only to wish each other well but also to pay respect to their elders. It is important not to mistake these marks on an elderly person as necessarily being indicative of some physical abuse. on the neck or chest. . or other illness. Within the community.Attitudes to the elderly Elders are well respected in the Lao community as Laotians believe in the honouring and the respect of the ‘Elders’. Popular traditional treatments include coining.
o Communication: Always be polite. 10. Traditional Codes of Conduct to be adopted when dealing with Lao elderly o Greeting: Put the palms of both hands together at chest level and slightly bow your head when saying “Sabaydee”. smile and say “khob jay “. The head is likely to be the husband or the male senior member of the family. mother or daughter under the age of puberty.9. Trust must come first and losing face is not acceptable in the Lao o Transport: lack of transport leading to increased isolation. traditional medicine is the only treatment option available. in particular with females. most Lao seniors are reluctant to seek advice from outside their own community.migration experiences & its impact on the Lao community in Australia In Laos public hospitals are the only medical services available to the community outside of traditional medicines and only affluent Lao people can afford general practitioners. If you wish to keep them on. This shows your sincerity. It is also not uncommon for wealthier Lao people to cross the borders to Thailand for medical treatment. o o Show appreciation: look into the eyes. Apology: keep eye contact when saying “kho thoad” or “Kho Aphay”. no rush!!? Do not attempt to ask personal questions before explaining the reasons first. courteous and never appear that you are in a hurry – “Bo paenyang” is the common word for Laotians which mainly implies never mind or everything is OK. o How to address Laotians: Address the head of the family first. Barriers to service access by elderly Laotian o o English language skills are the main barrier of communication for Lao seniors. Then express that you wish to see or to speak to a certain member of the family. o Privacy issues: community.) . o No physical contact. o Limited Australian Government Services Systems and limited knowledge of these including in the area of Aged Care support services. This creates a situation where it is not uncommon for medical and support services to be sought out only where a situation has become severe and treatment options within the community have been exhausted. meaning thank you. do ask for their permission as a courtesy and they will most likely reply “YES“. Access to Services Pre. please remove your hat and shoes. (It is forbidden to touch women unless they are your wife. For most Laotians. Because of this. Cross Cultural communication issues Lao seniors can feel that services are not culturally appropriate and do not address their needs. o Visiting: When entering Laotian homes.
o Positions: Never stand or sit higher than their head. bow slightly to show courtesy. nor anyone. Community needs were not made clear during the consultations due to privacy and sensitivity of the topics. 2006.worldatlas. References Prepared in consultation with the Lao Elderly Association Community worker Kousouma Rendall and Alzheimer’s Australia Vic.com Australian Government Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC): Community profile and statistics. o o Body language: Never use your foot or feet to point at anything. Dress code: Dress conservatively. 11. Use of community survey Initial community responses about their needs using the CPP Community Survey did not reflect actual service needs. 12. When walking past sitting Laotians. Lao community consultations and CPP survey World Atlas: http://www. the bilingual worker used the group work approach to clarify and explain the seniors’ needs and difficulties. However. Victorian Community profiles: 2006 Census .