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29 Oct 2020


Self-starter refugee helps others settle in to their new home


Community Innovation Fund recipient Sophie Bejek and award-winning restauranteur Sharon Salloum at the Cook for Syria dinner. Photo credit: Nikki To

Twelve months later, she joined some of the country’s most prestigious chefs at a Cook for Syria dinner to help raise funds for the UNICEF Syria Crisis Appeal.

Auspiced by the Western Sydney Migrant Resource Centre, Sophie managed the Laziz Project, which aimed to enable newly-arrived Syrian women to meet new people and gain employable skills through cooking classes. The participants, from the Liverpool area, undertook cooking sessions at the Refugee and Community Welcome Centre in Callan Park.

While running the classes, Sophie was introduced to the founder of award-winning restaurant Almond Bar, Sharon Salloum.

Ms Salloum attended a gathering at the Welcome Centre, where a diverse group of Syrian women congregated over language-learning, cooking, and some dancing led by Ms Bejok.

“It was heart-warming to see a group of strong-willed Syrian women, who have fled a war zone — and then they’re up dancing!” Ms Salloum said.

“To witness their resilience, how they’ve taken on life, is truly inspiring.”

As a second-generation Syrian, Ms Salloum walked away emotionally moved and eager to contribute to enrich the lives of those women.

Shortly afterwards, she asked Ms Bejek and the wider group of six women to participate in UNICEF’s Cook for Syria fundraising initiative, in which she had a key role.

Harnessing strengths and opportunities

In Aleppo, Syria, Ms Bejek graduated with a degree in biological engineering. Shortly afterwards, she worked as a lab assistant until she fled Syria to Lebanon with her family due to the ongoing conflict.

Since arriving in Australia in 2018 she has requalified as a certified Zumba dance instructor through the support of Inner West Council. With the support of SSI’s refugee entrepreneurship program Ignite®, she has set up a business to run her own classes.

The SSI Community Innovation Fund keeps community at heart, enabling the newcomer community to have a voice in the settlement process through harnessing their innate knowledge about their assets, strengths and opportunities, and to get their ideas funded.

The fund is designed to remove barriers to funding for the community and provide resources for those with ideas who can “do” but wouldn’t typically attract grant funding.

You can help support self-starters like Ms Bejek through making a donation towards SSI’s Community Innovation Fund here.

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