Multicultural Service Officers – Masters of all trades

Roger Ferguson was born and raised in Melbourne and has lived there his entire life.

“I was fortunate enough to grow up in a real melting pot of cultures,” says Roger.

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“In high school I had lots of friends from different backgrounds, particularly Chinese and Italian.”

It was Roger’s interest in and respect for cultural diversity that inspired him to learn more and eventually become a Multicultural Service Officer (MSO) for the Department of Human Services.

“I worked in the student team and the refugee team before moving into the MSO role.

“The department has also given me the opportunity to study and further my abilities, and I’ve been lucky enough to complete degrees in Community Development and Psychology and a Masters in Social Work.”

Roger describes MSOs as ‘masters of all trades’.

“Sometimes I’ll be helping vulnerable people through tough times. Other times I’ll be presenting at community events talking to people about our services and payments.

“I also train staff in cultural awareness, giving them practical tips on how to engage with people from all cultures respectfully,” Roger says.

MSOs play an important role at the forefront of the department’s interactions with multicultural people and communities.

“Our role is to bridge the gap between the government and the people we serve.

“Often there are challenges with literacy and English skills, but it’s important that we are patient and try to understand each person’s situation and what they need,” says Roger.

“A lot of refugees have experienced trauma from war zones and other horrific circumstances before coming to Australia. It’s been a massive eye-opener for me.

“I’ve learned that being able to appreciate where people have come from is essential to our role, and to setting people up for their new lives here.”

From Roger’s own journey, as well as the praise he gives his colleagues, it’s clear that it takes a particular set of skills to be a good MSO.

“You have to have a lot of patience, empathy and water-tight knowledge of our payments and services. It helps to have some knowledge of what other agencies can provide.

“And also knowing where someone can find financial assistance, counselling, help finding accommodation, and anything else they might need to settle here.

“I’ve found being able to show people information in their own language through our translated factsheets, podcasts and videos makes a huge difference. It’s fantastic.”

Roger describes that as an MSO, some days can have heart-breaking moments, alongside moments helping people overcome heart-break.

“We all have our success stories which keep us going and remind us that we’re making a difference.

“Last year, during an outreach session, a school counsellor approached me about a girl who the school thought needed help,” Roger reflects.

“So I sat down with the family to learn what they had been through. Turns out while they were in Burma they’d been in a refugee camp and the family had been malnourished. Because of this the girl had a lot of stomach problems and other physical issues.

“She also had a disability, as did her older sister.”

Roger promptly helped the family to access Centrelink payments.

“We also found a case manager for the family, which meant they were able to get more assistance with the girl’s health and education.

“After some time the girls’ mum began studying English too and really started feeling like part of the community.

“By the end of it we managed to improve the situation for all of the family and now they’re so much happier with their lives.

“Knowing I could help make a difference to their lives and their futures just felt fantastic for me. And that’s why I love my job!”

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