In March 2018, Saira* crossed the globe alone, travelling from her home in Sierra Leone to Australia, to escape her traditional marriage and build the foundations of a new life for herself, and one day her children.
“I was forced to leave my marriage and had to leave my kids with my mother. Once I arrived in Australia I said, ‘I can’t go back because I am so free’. Sometimes I cry for them, so if I could help them come here to Australia, I would be a happy person.”
While Saira continues to deeply miss her two daughters, aged seven and five, over the past two years the 32-year-old has surrounded herself with her Australian family.
“[Australia is a] very different country to Africa. I have my family back in Africa, but the people I have met [in Australia] are also like my family.”
Arriving in a foreign country with little contacts and no family is an extremely daunting task. In the first year of settlement, Saira found it difficult to find a job due several factors, including her lack of local work experience. She explained that she desperately needed to work to support her daughters and was beginning to lose hope about settling in Australia.
In an effort to pursue work in the disability sector, Saira completed a Certificate IV in Disability shortly after moving to Australia, however she faced barriers to gaining employment in this field.
In March 2019, she contacted SSI, who delivers the NSW Government’s Refugee Employment Support Program (RESP), to seek support in finding employment. In the first three years of the
program, RESP has supported nearly 2,000 individuals from refugee and asylum-seeking backgrounds like Saira to gain employment.
Saira shared she was eager to build her savings to save for purchase a new vehicle, which she would use as transport when working as a disability support worker.
She was then supported by the RESP to map out a career plan that would provide her with the steps she needs to take to become job ready, find employment and start saving. She met regularly with RESP staff and received guidance on different topics such as Australian work rights and work culture, practicing interview skills, and applying for jobs through online job websites.
As a result of the support Saira has received from the RESP, she went on to complete studies in Process Manufacturing from Gateway Training Academy and found employment with TOLL Group for a pick packing role in November 2019.
Saira explained the support of those around her, and especially Sandra, her case worker, has been key in establishing herself.
“Because of the Coronavirus I lost shifts in my job. So, I had to call Sandra and ask, ‘Sandra I do not know how to pay my way’ and she showed me what to do, told me where to go and who to contact if you are an asylum seeker and need help.
“Now, I know who to call when I need some food and they help me by bringing it to my house. Sandra has always helped me and told me what to do next. She is just like that. She is like a sister to me.
“This is what Australia is to me. I have received a lot of help.”
Saira is extremely grateful to have found employment and is working towards to her dream of working in the disability sector with the support of the RESP team.
“I have a lot of empathy and want to help children. So, my goal here is to work in disability, particularly with children.
Learn more about SSI's Employment programs here
* pseudonym and stock photo used to protect individual’s identity