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The Covid-19 lockdown has revealed a lot about ourselves. 

We found out that we’re hopeless at puzzles, can’t bake sourdough to save our lives and that having ‘spare time’ doesn’t automatically mean we’re about to start reading every book under the sun.

Looking more broadly though, this pandemic also shone a light on our communication skills and, more specifically, the difficulty with keeping our multilingual communities informed about the virus. 

Enter the North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network (NWMPHN). 

NWMPHN realised its community was falling through the gap in healthcare information. The team saw that their multicultural community needed more focused and empathetic messaging to help them survive what was then intended to be a 6-week lockdown, eventually stretching to 112 days.

NWMPHN came up with a plan to reconfigure healthcare communication. The team identified both the most common languages across their region and those which were often overlooked in widespread communication, communities which had only recently migrated to Australia and so did not have the generations which had learnt English over time.  

NWMPHN set out to create an informative and unifying video in each of these languages, using volunteers who could take the message from the Primary Health Network straight to the community itself. All in all the campaign produced 18 videos. 

A feat of logistics, the video production of this campaign meant finding 18 separate speakers, locations and shoot times. Of the 18 videos, 16 were in languages other than English, spanning across two-thirds of the globe. The Jasper Picture Company wrote a simple script in English which was then translated by a company, resulting in the 16 versions. 

Of course, this project came with unanticipated challenges. The combination of fast-tracked translation and an unprecedented global pandemic meant that, in many of the languages, they had to search for the word Covid. Let’s be honest, how many of us knew the word Coronavirus before this year? Let alone how to translate and explain it in any other language. 

Each video featured a community volunteer, sourced through NWMPHN and The Jasper Picture Company’s networks, speaking from an identical script translated into their community’s language. 

Ranging from athletes to engineers, these volunteers stepped up not only to read the script but to personalise it. Mary-Anne Toy, Director Strategic Relations at NWMPHN, said that the speakers would check the translation five times to make sure it was something they would actually say. 

“We went with their translation because we wanted it to be something that they would say. We wanted it to be warm and inviting”. 

 Perhaps the most touching element of the filming process was that each video was shot at the volunteer’s house. The Jasper Picture Company wanted it to feel like Melbourne, emphasising the multicultural domain. Driving around the North-Western suburbs, the solo videographer was invited into the homes of the volunteers. Setting up in their backyard, a nearby alleyway, and their local park.  

Of course, this didn’t come without pitfalls. Four speakers in four different languages had to be cancelled after a housemate was tested for COVID and had yet to receive the results. Nevertheless, they persisted. Wiping down every surface and religiously checking temperatures, Matt and Mary-Anne were able to finish the filming in three days, averaging 45 minutes a video and making for quite an impressive set-up and pack-down time. 

Mary-Anne has also stressed that, as much as these videos were designed to inform their linguistically diverse region and bridge the gap in healthcare communication, it was also a message of positivity.

“It was a way of trying to cheer up our community. All across our region but particularly our ethnic communities were really hurting in what became stage four restrictions. It was trying to be a positive message and show the beautiful diversity in our community”. 

These videos fostered not only accuracy and accessibility but empathy. Each speaker implored their community members to look after both themselves and those around them. 

The views speak for themselves. The campaign has attracted almost half a million views across all the videos. However, it’s the solo videos which represent the largest impact. These videos were run without English subtitles, limiting their audience to those which speak the language. Many of these have been viewed thousands of times. Tamil has 7,000 views, Greek has 8,000, across two videos Arabic has almost 20,000 and the single video in Vietnamese has been viewed over 23,000 times. We can see that these views would be entrenched in the community the video was targeting, reflecting them in the visual domain. 

As difficult as these past 8 months have been, the Covid-19 pandemic has also yielded some positive outcomes, forcing us to focus on those around us and how we can use our skills to impact their lives. There are few examples as poignant or as eloquent as North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network’s 18 languages campaign.

The campaign was promoting unity across Melbourne’s northern and western communities, highlighting that though we had been separated, we were working together and fighting as one.

Want to have a look for yourself? Click here to watch the videos helping communities across Melbourne’s North West.