Working with St Paul’s African House

Dr Michael Santhanam-Martin from the School of Agriculture and Food provides an update on his 2020/1 Community Engagement Grant.

In 2020 St Paul's African House (SPAH), a not-for-profit community organisation in Shepparton, received funding from the Victorian government’s Working for Victoria scheme to conduct a community needs assessment for the African communities of Greater Shepparton.

This became the project African Focus: Our Voices are Important in Greater Shepparton. SPAH employed seven community members to deliver the project, and asked for assistance from the University of Melbourne. Dr Pauline Brightling from the Harris Park Group (consultants) and I supported the African Focus team to design and conduct a community survey. Team members collected 255 survey responses, working face-to-face in seven languages.

The African Focus survey is the first of its kind to gather detailed data about the strengths, experiences and needs of the African communities of the Greater Shepparton region. The final report has already proved valuable to government agencies and services seeking to understand more about community priorities.

It clearly identified a need for more support with job searching and employment and allowed SPAH to develop a successful project proposal to the Scanlon Foundation for a project called Kazi Connect (kazi means work in Kiswahili). The University of Melbourne has no formal involvement in this project, but I am still in touch with the team at SPAH, and they are interested in developing future research connections with Melbourne Social Equity Institute, possibly through a Community Fellowship.

The funding from a Melbourne Social Equity Institute Community Engagement Grant really helped oil the wheels of this new community relationship. The grant covered my travel costs to Shepparton for meetings, and enabled me to support SPAH with small project costs that weren’t covered by their government grant such as catering for meetings, printing T-shirts for the African Focus team members and graphic design for the final report of the survey results. In addition to the financial support, the connection to the University of Melbourne and the Melbourne Social Equity Institute that the grant enabled has helped SPAH to position their work in a larger policy and scholarly context.

Dr Michael Santhanam-Martin
School of Agriculture and Food
Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences