8 March 2024

Thit Tieu has been named Keira Local Woman of the Year 2024 - but her eyes are on a different prize

| Dione David
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Nyan Thit Tieu accepts the Keira Local Woman of the Year 2024 from Member for Keira Ryan Park

Nyan Thit Tieu has been named Keira Local Woman of the Year 2024. Photo: Office of Minister Ryan Park.

The honour that Nyan Thit Tieu feels for being named Keira Local Woman of the Year 2024 is quickly overshadowed by hope for what it means for her advocacy work in the multicultural health space.

“In Wollongong, we have so many people who’ve come from overseas to call Australia their home, and contribute to their communities, but their voices are unheard. They don’t publicise themselves; they go quietly about the work that needs to be done for their communities and go largely unthanked,” she says.

“This kind of acknowledgement and visibility is good; it’s encouraging to know this work is meaningful and impactful to their communities.”

Led by her extensive studies, work and own lived experience as a migrant who survived cancer, Thit’s lifelong advocacy continues to uplift the voices of women, refugees, immigrants and cancer survivors from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds.

READ ALSO Cancer survivor’s mission to support migrants and multicultural communities gets a boost

In the veritable stack of irons in the fire, the Chair of Sisters Cancer Support Group is currently heavily focused on a project called CACHI, which stands for Culturally Appropriate Cancer Health Information.

Funded by Cancer Australia under the SPWC (Supporting People With Cancer) Grant initiative, it seeks to answer the question: What if you have information that could save a person’s life, but no way to make them understand it?

“Research from the Cancer Institute of NSW has shown that certain cohorts – our First Nations people, people in rural areas and people from CALD backgrounds – have much poorer outcomes in terms of the screening program, their cancer journeys and survival rates compared to mainstream groups,” Thit explains.

“This is devastating, because cancer is now in many cases a treatable disease. I myself, being a survivor – this is my tenth year now – know it is a chronic disease. You have to self-care, change your lifestyle to maintain good health, monitor your body and advocate for yourself to avoid relapse.

“We have a lot of multilingual resources available but what a lot of people don’t realise is that many migrants don’t even read and write in their own language, so that health information goes over their heads. Many have never even heard of cancer.”

Thit says the solution is co-designing a method to deliver the information that’s relevant to the recipient.

Sisters Cancer Support Group, which advocates on behalf of women from the multicultural community for awareness, prevention, and survivorship in their cancer journey, has teamed up with the Multicultural Communities Council of Illawarra (MCCI), Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District (ISLHD), and the University of Wollongong to apply for funding for CACHI.

READ ALSO ‘We are very lucky to have people like Barbara’ – community hero named Kiama’s Woman of the Year

The three-year project will focus on newly arrived refugees and immigrants in our region who do not understand the health system.

“We’ll use existing evidence-based resources and modify and change them to be relevant for CALD people,” Thit says.

“If they’re co-designing it, they have ownership, and that ownership is so important to this group. It builds trust, and that word – trust – is hands down the biggest word in the multicultural community. For this information to get to the people who need it most, they need to trust the people and resources they’re dealing with.”

NSW Minister for Women Jodie Harrison says the state’s Local Woman of the Year Award 2024 recipients were the pillars of their communities.

It’s the perfect description of Keira’s Woman of the Year, according to Member for Keira Ryan Park.

“The unparalleled experience and knowledge Thit has contributed to the multicultural health space has played an invaluable role in the wellbeing of our local community, and it’s a pleasure to recognise her commitment with this award,” he says.

Part of NSW Women’s Week 2024 (4 to 10 March), the Local Woman of the Year Awards is an annual program celebrating outstanding women in local communities. It runs alongside the prestigious Women of the Year Awards program, which coincides with International Women’s Day on 8 March.

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