Living through a pandemic peels the layers off our social structures exposing both the best and the worst. There is no doubt that we now have a more heightened sense of the sheer fragility of our lives and the necessity of community. Every media outlet tells stories of heroism, kindness and sheer practical goodness. The Government, for the most part, makes generous provision for those without work and accommodation.
But there is a downside – missing from any equation of generosity are asylum seekers, migrant workers and overseas students. Told, in no uncertain terms to “go home” if unable to provide for themselves, they are left without jobs or money. Threatened with homelessness and starvation they become totally dependent on not-for-profit organisations for support.
The House of Welcome is one such organisation. Under the auspices of St Francis Social Services, the House of Welcome, a centre in Western Sydney, provides a range of services for asylum seekers and is living proof that from “little things, big things grow”. Now an organisation with nine staff and an amazing band of volunteers, it came into being twenty years ago when a small ecumenical group gathered in Villawood to see how they could respond to the plight of asylum seekers released from Villawood Detention Centre. From its very beginning in a disused butcher’s shop in Carramar, the House of Welcome has depended on support from religious organisations and generous donors.
MWIA has, for some years, provided support for the House of Welcome, firstly by funding its employment program for asylum seekers, Work and Welcome and, in more recent times, the coordinator of the foodbank. The clients of the House of Welcome are rostered to come every fortnight to collect essential supplies to feed their families. One of the clients is Ada (not her real name), a single mother of five children living in House of Welcome accommodation, attempting to feed, encourage and home school her primary school children, with little support other than the House of Welcome.
The House of Welcome has a developed a strong relationship with the staff and students of Loreto Normanhurst. Five or more Work and Welcome job seekers have found employment in the school and, with the onset of the pandemic, the staff and students of Loreto Normanhurst responded generously providing carloads of goods and toiletries for the foodbank.
The women, men and children who come to the House of Welcome live, acutely and continuously, some of the insecurity many of us are experiencing during the pandemic, they need not only food and shelter but a voice which calls out for justice and compassion.
Author: Sr Libby Rogerson ibvm
Feature Image: Sr Janet Palafox ibvm and Sr Libby Rogerson ibvm delivering goods collected by the staff of Loreto Normanhurst to the House of Welcome.