On 12 November 2013, during the Grassroots Europe Conference ‘Making a difference for the most vulnerable in Europe’, I met with Candra Cahaya of the From Migrants For Migrants (MiMi) project in Austria, in order for her to tell me about her experience as an intercultural health educator working with the MiMi project on migrant health education. The Executive Managing Director of MiMi in Germany, Ramazan Salman, also provided additional information regarding the organisation itself.
SIRIUS: Why was MiMi set up?
Ramazan Salman: MiMi was set up in order to provide capacity building, empowerment and equal opportunities to immigrants regarding health services and health education.
Candra Cahaya: MiMi trains migrants such as me so that we can inform other migrants about the Austrian health care system and how to take advantage of the services on offer.
SIRIUS: How is MiMi run?
MiMi was set up by the Ethno-Medicinal Centre (EMZ) in Germany in 2003 in cooperation with the German Association of Company Health Insurance Funds (Bundesverband der Betriebskrankenkassen – BKK). It currently operates in 57 German towns and started in Austria in August 2012 under the name “MiMi – GesundheitslotsInnen in Wien”. The Volkshilfe in Vienna leads this initiative, supported by the EMZ. It is co-financed by the Austrian Ministry for the Interior and the State Secretary for Integration.
Ramazan Salman: On the one hand, MiMi trains immigrants living in Vienna, between the ages of 20 to 60, who are socially integrated and are legally resident, as intercultural health educators (GesundheitslotInnen), so that they can act as multipliers regarding health education within their migrant communities. Each participant speaks German and their mother tongue very well, has been previously educated to some extent and has good contacts to their ethnic or cultural community in Vienna.
Candra Cahaya: The GesundheitslotInnen then go on to inform migrants about the Austrian health care system, particularly migrants with no higher education and who speak little German, such as some housewives or newcomers.
Expert Council for Integration, Integration Report 2013 (p.29): “The MiMi-GesundheitslotInnen project has shown how it is possible to empower people with a migrant background to look after their own health, responsibly and autonomously. Well-integrated migrants have been trained by Volkshilfe in Vienna to become multipliers of integration for health-care issues. After they have successfully completed their 50 hours of training by experts, they pass on their knowledge in talks with their communities. In this way, they act as bridge builders, conveying information about health promotion, prevention and care in a culturally-sensitive manner. This empowerment approach is attempting to replace the often incorrect view of migrants as victims with a new focus on their available resources and potentials. It is necessary to continue to build up such target group-specific low-threshold approaches in the future (eg. by increasing the inclusion of migrant media and associations).”
SIRIUS: What is your role in MiMi?
Candra Cahaya: I am in touch with several Volkshochschule (vocational schools) and institutions such as “Mama speaks / learns German”, women’s organizations etc. in order to inform their students about the MiMi programme. If the students are interested in any of the subjects that we offer (the Austrian health system (obligatory), the impact of migration on health and disease prevention, nutrition and exercise, emotional and mental health and health in old-age), I go to inform them about it.
I am unusual in that, most GesundheitslotInnen give classes to their own communities, but I hold workshops for a diverse range of migrants with up to ten different nationalities in my class at any given time – there are not many Indonesians living in Vienna for me to teach! I do the presentation in German, which means that we have to overcome language barriers together. It is vital to quickly build up the trust of the participants, as I often only meet them once and we discuss some very personal issues. It is also important not to be too pushy, but encourage them to ask questions despite their lack of German.
MiMi provides basic material for each of the classes, but because it is not always suitable for the participants, I adapt all material to fit each class accordingly. The class is held in the institutions of learning and the teachers usually leave me alone with the students. I love the work as I learn a lot from it and have interesting, engaging discussions with the students.
The remuneration you get from the workshop is not sufficient to support you financially, but it’s very rewarding as you meet people from all walks of life with whom you wouldn’t usually get to speak. I also appreciate that I may be the only person that these people confide in regarding their problems.
SIRIUS: How does MiMi support inclusive education more concretely?
Ramazan Salman: MiMi focuses on adult education, in particular the health issues that affect migrants. We aim to motivate adults for training, civic engagement, self-help and responsibility. In this way, we help parents give better support to their children.
Candra Cahaya: I think MiMi is unique in its attempts to support education and multiculturalism. We offer lifelong learning to a certain extent. Not only do we try to teach the participants about the health system and healthy living, thus raising their health and nutrition awareness, but we also develop cultural understanding for each other, as well as empathy and respect for cultural diversity.
A MiMi Gesundheitslotsin should possess cultural sensitivity and diversity awareness in order to be able to approach participants and enhance interaction. In short: a people person with intercultural competence.
SIRIUS: What are the future plans for MiMi in Austria?
Candra Cahaya: My two supervisors, who are responsible for the MiMi programme in the Volkshilfe, are also in charge of other projects, thus cannot dedicate all their time exclusively to MiMi. As one of them told us, ideally, someone should work full-time for the MiMi project but this seems not to be financially viable at present.
Nevertheless, the second generation of the MiMi pilot programme in Austria for intercultural health educators is just finishing its training. The Volkshilfe are trying to get the second generation moving and help them reach their audience. The idea is to reach out to as many migrant groups as possible.
Further reading (MiMi Germany)
- The World Health Organisation has signalled MiMi Germany as a case study of interest in its report Poverty and social exclusion in the WHO European Region: Health systems respond.
- Cities of Migration also highlights MiMi Germany as a good practice.