Empowered to Work Program
Assisting refugees and people seeking asylum to find ongoing sustainable employment and re-establish a sense of hope.
Seated at desks in one of the many rooms at the Auburn Centre for Community are people from Burma, Sri Lanka, Iran, Iraq, and elsewhere, united in the one desire – to find work. Empowered to Work is the latest program developed by the House of Welcome in Sydney to assist refugees and people seeking asylum to find ongoing sustainable employment. Mentored by volunteers, the prospective employees learn to write resumes, develop interview skills and conduct job searches. Weekly English and computer classes bolster the specific employment requirements. From October to December last year, 85 people were assisted in their efforts to find work and, since January, 6-8 people have attended sessions each week.
In recent months more people seeking asylum have been granted the right to work but they face considerable barriers – limited language, skills and training which are often unrecognised in Australia and uncertainty regarding their visa status. Gabriele, an African asylum seeker, still waiting, after 12 months, for his visa status to be clarified says employers don’t like people on Bridging Visas. As a human rights activist and former senior public servant, Gabriele fell afoul of political leaders after a change of government and spent two periods in prison before fleeing to Australia with his family. As a part time worker for the House of Welcome, Gabriele is in a position to know how important it is for people to have employment.
The Empowered to Work program is one of the many supports offered to refugees and people seeking asylum by the House of Welcome. In 2001, in response to the plight of asylum seekers on temporary protection visas being released from Villawood Detention Centre with virtually no support, the House of Welcome was established by an Ecumenical group. Without government funding and minimal community support the project was rescued by the Franciscans who purchased and renovated an old butcher’s shop in Carramar and the House of Welcome opened in
2002 under the oversight of the NSW Ecumenical Council. After some years the Franciscans assumed responsibility for the House of Welcome and it is part of St Francis Social Services. As
a founding member of the House of Welcome committee I have seen it grow to become the largest provider of transitional housing in NSW, expand to new offices in the Auburn Centre for Community, while continuing to offer support through case work, holiday programs, counselling, food banks and English and Computer classes. Volunteers are a treasured resource answering phones, assisting clients with everything from bureaucratic requirements to doctors ‘visits and offering the necessary human support so necessary to people charting the unfamiliar and, at times, frightening demands of a new culture.
The House of Welcome aims to nurture hope, advocate for justice and promote self-reliance for people traumatised by persecution and violence, who want to make a new life for themselves and their children. It is here that refugees and people seeking asylum find welcome, shelter, support and the possibility of taking some control over their lives through the Empowered to Work program.
Words: Sr. Libby Rogerson ibvm
Please note: Names have been changed to protect identities.