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2007 Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

New guide bridges gap to ethnocultural communities

Studies show that health promotion programs created for the mainstream population do not always work as well for ethnocultural communities. Culture Counts aims to change the way health promotion professionals relate to their audiences.

CAMH has developed a new guide, Culture Counts: A Road Map to Health Promotion to show how to create and implement health promotion initiatives that will have an impact in ethnocultural communities. “There is widespread agreement that to be effective, health messages focusing on ethnocultural groups need to be culturally-sensitive and relevant to the community,” says Branka Agic, Community Health and Education Specialist at CAMH.

The Culture Counts guide is intended for anyone working for a mainstream agency or organization who is considering undertaking a health promotion initiative with ethnocultural communities, or who has attempted to do so in the past, with unsatisfactory results. The guide is available online and in PDF version.

“Sometimes when you partner with mainstream organizations, you worry about being ‘swallowed’ by the larger organization and that your agency’s contributions to the project won't be acknowledged. However, this was not the case with CAMH! They were supportive, respectful and inclusive. The partnership was very positive and mutually satisfying,” says Maria J. Benevides, MSW, RSW, Portuguese Mental Health and Addiction Service.

The guide covers issues related to health promotion in ethnocultural communities, and provides links to online resources that explore each issue more deeply. Upon reviewing the final version of the online tool, Elizabeth Gajewski with the Polycultural Immigrant and Community Services, commented, “I have navigated through the guide and I am very impressed. It contains a lot of information and the graphic form is very well done. The quotes add community voices and make the theory more credible.”

Culture Counts results from a partnership between CAMH and seven community-based agencies which researched and tested best practice approaches to adapting a brochure on low-risk drinking guidelines for seven communities: Portuguese, Somali, Russian, Polish, Tamil, Punjabi, and Serbian.

“In today’s ever-changing cultural landscape, it is critically important to strengthen our ability to work with diverse communities and to learn better ways to promote the health and well-being of all Ontarians,” observes Marianne Kobus-Matthews, Senior Health Promotion Consultant at CAMH.

The partnership approach resulted in making important cultural adaptations and appropriate translations to the low-risk drinking guidelines brochure that may not have been made if the participating communities had not been involved. For example, representatives of the Portuguese community suggested adding information on homemade wine, coffee with alcohol and moonshine (Aguardente), beverages commonly consumed in Toronto’s Portuguese community. As well, the participating Serbian and Somali project partners felt the harm reduction message of the low-risk drinking guidelines would not work for their communities. Instead, posters with culturally appropriate designs and messages about the dangers of alcohol use were created, avoiding the wasted cost of producing brochures that community members would not have used.

Knowing these sensitive aspects about different ethnoracial communities makes a positive and meaningful difference when professionals are trying to reach out to them. “Sometimes mainstream organizations seem to base their knowledge of our community on what they have read in books, and they end up with stereotypes or information that is out of date and out of context. For instance, arranged marriages are no longer the rule in our community and are getting less favoured—people date and meet over the Internet. Our community is changing,” notes Naga Ramalingam, Society for the Aid of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) Minorities.

For more information about Culture Counts, please contact Marianne_Kobus-Matthews@camh.net at 416 535-8501, ext. 4552

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