Giving back to the community.
I decided in early 2019 to rearrange my schedule & find 1 - 2 days a week, where I could use my corporate experience to mentor refugees and asylum seekers newly arrived and struggling to find a pathway to meaningful employment. This involved working with NFP organisations at a strategic level, as well as with individuals on design & product development projects.
This experience was incredibly rewarding, but what was stunning to see first hand, was the barriers facing many newly arrived entrants. Obstacles due not only to lack of language skills, and lack of support systems, but also the entrenched "fake news" we see surrounding humanitarian entrants, with a lot of people mistaking these refugees for "queue jumpers" and "boat people"
Most refugees have been bought to Australia under the Governments humanitarian quota after years of living and applying via squalid refugee camps. Many having to make the horrific decision to come alone leaving families behind. It's a pretty lonely and isolating path to tread for many.
However from my point of view, after seeing Australia's apparel manufacturing trade decimated by our push to Asia chasing higher profits, its really exciting times. A lot of these new refugees have incredible technical sewing expertise, which if nurtured could see a renewed industry.
But the most pressing problem facing this community was a very real crisis for fresh food due to the governments cuts to living allowances.
So we created ifeedrefugees a profit for purpose project we trialed last year. With each tee shirt or reusable shopping bag we sold, a voucher would be generated for a refugee experiencing emergency food insecurity. This voucher was redeemable at a weekly market held by our partners The Community Grocer. We were also working directly with the caseworkers at The Whittlesea Community Centre who could identify community members at most risk.
Whilst we had great support for the project, we found many people through shyness, or cultural sensitivities were not presenting their vouchers. So we tried a different approach. What if we helped the community build a vegetable garden, that they would then have full ownership of, with all the produce going back to the community. It was amazing! We took an empty abandoned plot, and in 6 weeks were able to turn it into what is now a thriving garden.
We used it as a training initiative, providing a workshop on wicking bed building delivered by the very edible gardens team, and then working with the community to build the beds. We worked with community partners Bunnings and Eco Dynamics who were incredible in their generosity. In addition we crowdfunded, with the help of the incredible artwork on one of our bags provided by @mulgtheartist. Craig Castree then taught us all how to plan and maintain a pest free edible garden - and our refugee garden project was complete and thrives to this day.
Our aim was to show the team at Whittlesea that there is a pathway through positive projects - that opens up opportunity via connections to other local organisations, and also provides volunteer opportunities for refugees, through which they find confidence through purpose. This experience working, communicating, and building skills and relationships can ultimately lead to employment.
We would never have imagined where this project would lead. The Whittlesea Community has embraced our little project, its values and its roadmap, and exploded it - creating an ambitious new project which will provide a sustainable future for its whole community. It's absolutely fantastic. Click the link below to find out more, and how you can support their exciting new initiative.
As for us - as we continue our work in this area, a very exciting new project is taking form. All will be revealed very soon - so stay tuned.