Dialog Box

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20 December 2018

Belonging and community for refugee women

Recently CatholicCare’s Refugee Settlement Program held an end of year celebration for refugee women. Women of Afghani descent packed two buses, eagerly waiting to start their journey to Phillip Island to celebrate with one another.

Language was no barrier for the women, as they spoke through pits of laughter, singing native tunes and rejoicing in their shared time together. The women, ranging from all ages, passed food amongst themselves and played on drums as they made their way towards Phillip Island.

Upon arrival, the women formed their own little cliques and flocked towards the sandy park, laying down their picnic baskets and bags of homemade food. They were overjoyed with the beautiful weather and the wonderful company surrounding them.

After lunch, the women were rallied together to participate in the distribution of ‘goodie bags’ that were prepared by the CatholicCare team. The woman were given a ticket and eagerly awaited as their number was called so they could stand up and collect their items. The bags were filled with basic toiletries, make-up, supermarket vouchers and other useful items and gifts – the laughter and smiles shared throughout the group were enough to understand the gratitude and excitement they felt.

Photo: Refugee women enjoying lunch together at Phillip Island, among 'goodie bags' filled with toiletries and gifts.

The importance of settling well

CatholicCare’s Refugee Settlement Program aids newly arrived refugee families with social and life skills by providing activities and social gatherings to help them settle well into their new community. Social gatherings and activities provide an opportunity for the woman to experience new places while forming new connections and relationships.

The 50 plus women who attended the celebration have faced unthinkable challenges, and often feel isolated and unsure of their new community and the cultural norms. Many face mental health issues, unemployment and language barriers, and some fear the judgement or ridicule they may face from the community, which makes settling in Australia even more difficult. 

An elderly woman who attended the day’s festivities shared her experience living in Australia and what the program means to her. She recounted her story, highlighting her everyday struggles staying at home to look after her adult daughter who has a disability. She also shared her gratitude with the CatholicCare team for the opportunity she has been given to escape her troubles and have fun like any other family. ‘I always look forward to this day out. I have been a part of this program for several years now.’

When asked if she would be able to have these outings on her own, she said she wishes she was able to but she didn’t know how; ‘I don’t have a car and I don’t know all these new places. My daughter is disabled and I take care of her.’ Through an interpreter, the woman’s daughter spoke out, too. ‘I look forward to these outings because I don’t go out. And I don’t know the language’. 

Another woman spoke of her experience of living in Australia, saying she has no family of her own, except for the women surrounding her with whom she has become good friends. She doesn’t speak English, and so she fears going to new places in case she becomes lost. Another shared how she cares for her two children who are drug dependent and often in and out of hospital. 

The common tie that all women mentioned through their shared experiences was the importance of the Refugee Settlement Program in their lives, as it enables them to leave home, leave their problems behind and engage with their community in a safe, respected space. The importance of community engagement among the woman was evident as all the woman engaged with one another, none of them feeling isolated or struck with fear. Women from different walks of life attended the end of year celebration, all with different stories and tribulations who have overcome adversity, united in their shared belief of a strong and close-knit community.

It was evident as the women packed up their belongings with joy and peace in their heart, that the day was a success and that they had enjoyed what their new country has to offer.


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