Sydney’s refugee communities are brimming with solutions for the challenges they face. With a helping hand from SSI, community leaders are being resourced to create projects that close gaps and capitalise on their communities’ strengths.
Recipients of SSI’s Community Innovation Fund (CIF) recently gathered in Ashfield to showcase these projects, which include technology oriented English language classes, a peer support network for newly arrived refugees with disability, and an initiative that uses music to help refugees learn English.
Over the past five years, SSI and its partners have invested more than $5 million in initiatives like CIF that add value to its contracted programs, SSI CEO Violet Roumeliotis said.
“Drawing on feedback from communities, we have identified unmet needs and invested in initiatives to close these gaps. One such example is CIF, which was created following the 2015 decision to resettle a one-off intake of refugees from Syria and Iraq,” she said.
“We were thrilled that 12,000 people would have a safe home in Australia. We were also aware that a large portion of these families would initially settle in Fairfield and Liverpool, so it was important to ensure these communities were adequately supported.”
To identify what support was required, SSI turned to the communities themselves.
“Our intention was to build communities’ capacity to harness their own strengths. We worked hand-in-hand with south-west Sydney community leaders, local councils and other service providers to make communities stronger,” said Ms Roumeliotis.
“What makes this fund unique is that it resources community members who wouldn’t typically attract grant funding. We wanted to remove burdensome grant structures and simplify the application and monitoring process. Rather than filling out a complicated online form, for example, people pitch their ideas face to face.”
To date, SSI has funded 12 innovative projects, a number of which were on display during the ‘speed presenting’ event, where audience members split across two stations manned by CIF recipients. Over two rotating sessions, CIF participants gave sequential presentations about their initiatives and had a question and answer session.
Nehdal Amir from the Mandaean Women’s Union spoke about their hairdressing-training project, which to date has supported five newly arrived refugees from Mandaean backgrounds through an introductory hairdressing course.
The project aims to help participant overcome barriers to employment and education by introducing the basic concepts of hairdressing in Australia and providing them with industry connections and credit towards TAFE hairdressing qualifications.
“We now have many women on a waiting list to participate in the project and hope to teach more women how to find their way to hairdressing employment,” she said. “We are very grateful and thankful for SSI for supporting us to achieve our goals.”