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Seven projects supporting refugee communities in south-west Sydney have received a boost from not-for-profit Settlement Services International’s (SSI) $50,000 Community Innovation Fund.

 A total of $100,000 has now been shared among 12 grassroots community initiatives, with recipients in the second round of funding joining five projects that were allocated funding during the first round in early 2018.

Successful applicants and their projects (see further down for descriptions):

• The Peacemakers Ensemble – Learning English Through Song
• Al-Muntada (Iraqi Australian University Graduates Forum) – Iraqi Folklorama
• St Thomas Chaldean & Assyrian Catholic Diocese – English language course
• The Mandean Women’s Union – Learn and Work for Our Future
• The Chaldean League of NSW – Technology Support not only computers with basic English skills
• Sophie Bejok – Laziz Project
• Diversity Disability Alliance – Strength through Peers Support

The Community Innovation Fund was established in 2018 with a unique approach to funding that builds on the strengths and assets of community organisations and leaders in south-west Sydney, so they can develop and enhance their own approaches to supporting newcomers.

“Encouraging individuals and groups to identify areas of concern in their own community, and the resources they can harness, gives that community a voice to shape its own priorities,” said SSI Community Engagement Coordinator Kat O’Neill.

“It enables the community to have agency in the areas that matter most to them.

“When solutions are driven by the local community — by people who live and breathe their specific challenges and aspirations — the capacity of that community develops to find the most effective ways to meet their own needs.”

While Community Innovation Fund recipients drive their own project management, they are supported by SSI with skills coaching and connections to contacts in SSI’s networks, including the NSW Settlement Partnership, local governments, community groups, leaders and organisations.

With Round 1 proving successful in building stronger communities and growing the confidence and capabilities of recipients, SSI is excited about the opportunities to further develop community strengths in Round 2.

“It is inspiring to see the recipients mentor each other, form connections, develop their projects and apply for other grants to expand their work,” said Ms O’Neill.
The successful applicants

The Peacemakers Ensemble is a community choir based in Fairfield with members of refugee backgrounds from Mesopotamian-Australian communities. The choir has established a project called Learning English through Song (LETS), helping recently-arrived Syrian and Iraqi refugees in south-west Sydney acquire English language through the beauty and diversity of Australian song. Through the study, understanding and performance of Australian song, the project will increase English conversational skills and foster a sense of belonging and engagement with the wider Australian community, life and culture.

Through the promotion of cultural and educational activities that promote social cohesion, Al-Muntada aims to assist the emerging Iraqi community in south-west Sydney to participate in their new Australian community. The group has held a series of workshops around the folkloric music, song and dance of the diverse Iraqi communal groups, including Kurdish, Arab, Syriac, Assyrian and Gypsie cultures. All cultural groups danced together at the Shanasheel Iraqi Cultural Festival in November 2018.

The St Thomas Chaldean & Assyrian Catholic Diocese recognised that many community members, especially mothers and the elderly, were not able to attend the government’s Adult Migrant English Program although they wanted to learn English. In response, St Thomas has partnered with the Australian Catholic University (ACU) to develop and run English language classes for people from newly arrived refugee backgrounds.

The Mandean Women’s Union’s Learn and Work for Our Future is an introductory course to hairdressing for women from Mandean newly arrived refugee backgrounds. The project aims to foster the professional development of participants by introducing the basic concepts of hairdressing in Australia, providing them with connections to the hairdressing profession, and enabling credit towards hairdressing qualifications through the Union’s partnership with TAFE.

Increasingly newly arrived refugees are required to navigate online forms in English for services crucial to their everyday life, such as online banking and Centrelink. The Chaldean League’s technology support project aims to develop the skills, knowledge and confidence of newly arrived refugees to use technology and advance their English language skills. The project was developed by Raghda Aziz, a volunteer caseworker with the Chaldean League. Raghda arrived in Australia in 2011 with her family after fleeing persecution in Iraq. She has seen how simple mistakes on forms can affect people’s lives and is now known for her expertise and willingness to support newly arrived members of the community. This is the second time this project has been assisted by the Community Innovation Fund. Raghda has expanded the program and has brought on an English language educator who is supporting the classes with English language learning.

Sophie Bejok had been in Australia for only six months when she applied for the fund after fleeing Syria with her family. Auspiced by Western Sydney Migrant Resource Centre, Sophie is managing the Laziz Project, which aims to enable women from newly-arrived backgrounds to meet new people and gain employable skills through cooking classes. The participants, from the Liverpool area, will undertake cooking sessions at the Refugee Welcome Centre in Callan Park, and will gain a Food Safety Certificate at the completion of the course.

Through its Strength through Peers Support project, the Diversity Disability Alliance aims to provide an opportunity for people from newly arrived refugee backgrounds and with a disability to build their peer support networks and receive one-on-one support from a peer mentor while addressing cultural attitudes and issues related to disability. This will be achieved through an introductory peer support course, a peer mentoring program, and Peer2Peer cafes, where peer facilitators and newly arrived people will meet others in the community with a disability.

Learn more about the Community Innovation Fund.

Success stories

Bright future ahead for new Australian Dana Al Samaan

Dana is a young woman from Syria who came to Australia</p><pOriginally from Syria, Dana came to Australia via Iraq in search of safety.

I was born and raised in Damascus, Syria. Syria is the country where I attended school and university for free, where I enjoyed safety and security, where I learned to communicate and respect others even when we have differences in religion, thought, doctrine or ideology,” she said.

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