The lunch was an informal affair at Wilson Street, Mayfield West, the home of CatholicCare Refugee Service. It is a place of welcome and support for refugees and their families − and curious visitors like me are welcome too. The women are a volunteer army, from various walks of life, who all became close friends through the service. Shared lunches have become a ritual at the converted presbytery where these ladies (and some male volunteers) assist refugees by empowering them to enjoy happy and productive lives in our community.
As I listened, I realised that their experiences in volunteering are ones of hope.
Each volunteer brings his or her unique talents − organisational skills, sewing, teaching English or accompanying refugees to appointments such as accommodation inspections and swimming lessons. Small tasks make a big difference in the lives of refugees finding their way in a foreign country.
During our conversation it became apparent that it’s not just about what the volunteers are doing for the refugees, but what assisting the refugees has done for them. They shared their joy in making new friends with the refugees and fellow volunteers. They smile as they tell me what it has meant to them, to be the friendly face these people desperately need after years of hardship. It was also clear that they are incredibly passionate about assisting the refugees, many of whom were once professionals in their homeland, to unlock their full potential. I learned that despite a strong work ethic, ‘red tape’ and the language barrier prevent many from contributing to the Australian workforce.
Some 25 volunteers and three staff work to respond to the 250+ enquiries CatholicCare Refugee Services receives each month. No request for help by refugees, or offer of assistance by a volunteer, would ever be turned down.
“The work our volunteers do is amazing. They’re helping to rebuild lives and activate change for refugee families who are so desperate to start anew,” said Co-ordinator of Refugee Services, Tania Kelland.
“Our aim is to be a centre of welcome, hospitality, friendship, fun, healing and communication. It is incredibly rewarding to know that by helping the refugees to learn new skills, and collaborating with other service providers on their behalf, we are providing hope. I feel very privileged to undertake such important work and to be supported by a group of talented, kind-hearted and driven volunteers,” Ms Kelland said.
National Volunteer Week is held 9-15 May. This is an annual celebration to acknowledge the generous contribution of our nation’s volunteers. It’s also a timely reminder of how I might be able to contribute to my local community.
I will leave you with the words of the volunteers: “Come and spend some time with us at Refugee Service. We can use everyone’s talents; even talents you don’t know you have! What the refugees have been through is often unimaginable but in just a few hours a week, or a month, you can make a huge difference.”