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, for her children.
Saira has been supported by the Refugee Employment Support Program
“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 7 and 5, 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 few 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 said 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, which delivers the NSW Government’s Refugee Employment Support Program (RESP) in collaboration with its member organisations, 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 seeker backgrounds to gain employment.
Saira said she was eager to build her savings to save for the 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 needed 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, practising 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 said the support of those around her, and especially Sandra, her case worker, had 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 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.”
Delivered by SSI and partners, RESP is a four-year program that supports refugees and asylum seekers into sustainable employment and addresses employment as an integrated part of the whole refugee settlement journey.
Learn more about RESP and SSI’s other employment programs which support vulnerable people in the community to achieve independence.
*Pseudonym and stock image used to protect individual's identity.