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Expansion planned for maternal refugee program

7 April 20150 comments
Expansion planned for maternal refugee program_Maggie_Lynch

Maggie Lynch OAM

To many newly arrived refugees, Maggie Lynch is like a mother.

Mrs Lynch, 65, has long been volunteering in various refugee and asylum seeker-related programs, and over that time has developed what she refers to as “a very big family”.

Chief among those programs has been working with refugee mums-to-be at the Monash Medical Centre in Clayton.

For the past 25 years Lynch has been heading the program run through AMES, which has been a huge success.

Located in the antenatal clinic of the Monash Medical Centre, the program aims to give non-English speaking women the opportunity to learn and improve their English, while also receiving the support and assistance critical to raising a baby in a foreign country with a foreign public health system.

Mrs Lynch says that the primary aim of the program is to “look after women who feel very isolated and lonely in a time where support services are necessary.”

The program utilises counsellors and volunteer tutors, who not only assist in learning the English language, but also with things such as making hospital appointments, education on baby safety and nutrition, talking to the doctors and midwives, vaccinations, joining playgroups and establishing social ties for the mother and baby.

Mrs Lynch estimates that she has met around 8000 women in the time that she has worked at Monash, and yet the demand for her services have never been higher.

This demand for services has been the catalyst for the expansion of the program into the Dandenong Hospital, where there is a great need for programs like these.

Mrs Lynch hopes that the program will have the same effect as in Monash but on a greater scale, due to the large amount of refugees who choose to settle in and around Dandenong.

“The main thing is that there will be a lot more people at Dandenong Hospital”, says Mrs Lynch. “Refugees can no longer afford to move into places like Springvale and Clayton because of rising house prices, so a lot of migrants and refugees are living in places like Dandenong.”

The expansion of the AMES program to Dandenong has been met with great enthusiasm from Monash Health, the healthcare network that owns both the Monash Medical Centre and the Dandenong Hospital.

00001098-imageMrs Lynch says that the hospital is “very keen to start in the next few weeks,” however they are still waiting on the approval of a new co-ordinator for the program.

The position will most likely be filled by a volunteer tutor who has worked in the Monash program for years, Mrs Lynch says.

When asked why she will not be heading the program, Lynch says that she will be overseeing the implementation of the program and will spend some time there, but will remain primarily at Clayton.

The implementation of a new program also means finding a new set of volunteers to work at Dandenong, which could potentially prove to be problematic.

“There will be no problem finding tutors for Dandenong, as we already have a waiting list of people looking to volunteer,” Mrs Lynch says. “The only problem is that it might be hard to find tutors who would be willing to drive all the way out to Dandenong. We have a lot of volunteers who live in the Bayside/Malvern area, and it is a pretty long commute out to Dandenong and back. So the location of the hospital might be a bit of a problem.”

There has also been a desire to expand the programs to other hospitals that greatly require the service, such as the Royal Women’s Hospital and Sunshine Hospital. However for the moment these plans are just a pipe dream.

The tireless dedication of Mrs Lynch was recognised in 2013, when she was awarded the Order of Australia Medal (OAM) for her services to refugees.

Despite her fervent dedication to helping those new to Australia, Mrs Lynch has no plans yet of reducing her work load, which also includes working at Brighton Grammar School as a liaison for international students and their families.

“I’m going to keep on going as I am for a while, and then eventually swing into exclusively voluntary work. One thing I do want to establish is a system of continuity that allows the program to continue seamlessly after I finish.”

This has already begun at Monash, which offers its services on Wednesdays and Fridays. One of the volunteers who has been working with the program for 12 years has taken over the running of the Friday program for the last 18 months.

Mrs Lynch says that the new co-ordinator has been doing a “fantastic” job, and this transition of leadership has set a precedent for the program to keep flourishing after she decides to leave.

Maggie Lynch has helped to improve the lives thousands of women over the 25 years she has been working with AMES. And with the growth the program has experienced under her direction, her influence will continue to touch many more, long after when she decides to retire.

Robbie Wallis
AMES Staff Writer