SSI News Blog

Music speaks all languages at SSI Community Kitchen

Community Kitchen Jam SessionThe musicians in Eddie Boyd and the Phatapillars didn’t know much about where the asylum seekers came from, they said, but knew they understood music.

Eddie Boyd, Sandy Clarke and Andy Nielsen from the Sydney-based blues and roots band took part in Settlement Services International’s (SSI) first Community Kitchen Jam Session for 2014, on March 12.

The trio said they hoped it might brighten the day for the mostly-Afghan group and make them feel welcome in Australia.

It was also an opportunity for them to learn about where the community-based asylum seekers had come from and why, they said.

“I don’t think we’re that aware of people’s situations,” Eddie, the band’s singer and guitarist, said, “so to hear first-hand from them, rather than just in the news was an eye-opener.”

“The guy I spoke to the most was from Sri Lanka and I asked how long he had been in Australia. He said he had spent one year in Sydney, one year in detention and a year in Indonesia.

“He was showing me a photo of his daughter who he said was back in Sri Lanka. I didn’t want to ask too much about that, it was obviously a hard subject to talk about. But I asked him if he was going to go back and he said no. It seemed pretty heavy.”

“Yeah, and if we can do something to help them take their minds off that for a little while, and make them smile, then I guess that’s pretty cool,” Andy added.

Sandy said: “I don’t feel like you get a lot of information about where these people are coming from and why.

“You’re so detached from it,” Andy continued, “you always hear about the boats coming over but you never hear it from their point of view. You never hear about why they are coming or what they’ve left behind.

“They’re not just coming here for a holiday on the beach. They’re looking for a better, safer life. I guess I probably take it for granted; being born here and living here, you don’t really realise that people are trying to get here for a chance to improve their lives. I couldn’t imagine being under constant attack or having my family imprisoned for something stupid. It’s nuts.

“But like we saw today, music is like a universal language. We can’t relate to their lives or where they came from but as soon as we played music they all seemed to enjoy it. They might not know what we’re singing about but they all enjoyed it and some of them got in and had a jam with us.”

The Jam Session project invites musicians to play at SSI’s fortnightly Community Kitchen initiative. Instruments are provided for SSI clients who want to play along, or play their own songs. The program coordinator, SSI’s Arts and Culture Coordinator, Carolina Triana said it was developed as it became obvious that clients were keen to perform for their friends. A donation of musical instruments through the Music for Refugees project, led by Philip Feinstein, then made it all possible.

Sandy, Phatapillars’ bassist, said the group was looking forward to returning and encouraging people to play traditional songs from their countries of origin.

“I find it very interesting to hear their traditional music as well,” he said, “it’s more like sharing things between musicians.”

Artists interested in participating at a Community Kitchen Jam Session, or wish to donate instruments, can contact Carolina Triana, Arts & Culture Coordinator, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Scholarship ‘inspires change’ and rewards hard work

Zahraa Habeeb The Hornsby branch of an international women’s organisation has embraced this year’s ‘inspiring change’ theme for International Women’s Day by presenting its first scholarship to a western Sydney high school student.  

Fifteen-year-old Zahraa Habeeb from Blacktown is the recipient of the inaugural Soroptimist International (Hornsby club) education scholarship.

Supported by Settlement Services International (SSI), Zahraa and her family are living in Sydney while they await the outcome of their application for refugee status.

“SSI gratefully acknowledges the generosity of the Hornsby club of Soroptimist International, and the support these women have given Zahraa, a young lady who has come to Australia from difficult circumstances,” said SSI CEO Violet Roumeliotis.

Originally from Iraq, Zahraa and her family have been in Sydney on bridging visas since July, and are unable to work.

“The scholarship has provided computer equipment that will help immeasurably with Zahraa’s studies, but it’s also a resource that the whole family will benefit from,” said Ms Roumeliotis.

President of the Soroptimist International Hornsby club, Rosemary Fitzgerald said that the values of Soroptimist International and SSI were aligned in that both organisations strongly support human rights, and have an interest in supporting women and children.

“We are thrilled to be able to support Zahraa in her school education and to encourage her enthusiasm for learning,” said Ms Fitzgerald.  

“The Hornsby club will provide ongoing assistance where we can to support an inspiring young lady like Zahraa.”

Zahraa is enrolled in the Intensive English Centre (IEC) at Evans High School. Deputy Principal Bridget Sarris said that Zahraa had demonstrated a keen interest and commitment, and made great progress since she enrolled in October last year.

“Before the end of this year Zahraa will be able to transition from IEC to mainstream Year 10, a great achievement considering she knew little English less than 12 months ago,” said Mrs Sarris. 

POSTPONED: Fairfield HSS team and clients get hands dirty to clean community

Clean Up Australia Day

Staff and clients from the SSI Humanitarian Settlement Services team in Fairfield are going to “do the right thing, put it in the bin” this Tuesday.

The group will volunteer its time to take part in the annual Clean Up Australia event, which aims to “keep Australia beautiful”.

Acting Team Leader Nedhal Amir said staff and clients would spend time after midday on Sunday, cleaning Smart Street in Fairfield. 

“It is the main street in Fairfield, with shopping centres, organisations, the police station and Fairfield train station, so there is much rubbish lying around,” Nedhal said.

“Clean Up Australia Day is a good event for us all to remember that being clean and tidy is good for our health and the environment.

“And because most of the people who we work with are new arrivals, it’s good for them to see us taking care of our community

More than 550,000 people took part in Clean Up Australia Day last year, with 16,150 tonnes of rubbish collected from more than 7,300 sites around the country.

For more information and to find out where and how people can participate in their local communities visit:

*The original news post said that this event would be held on Sunday, March 2, but it was postponed due to kits from Clean Up Australia arriving late.

Knox Grammar Old Boys find a level playing field with refugees and people seeking asylum

SSI soccer knockoutSoccer is proving to be a great unifier for refugees, people seeking refugee status and Australian communities.

Refugees and people claiming asylum who are supported by Settlement Services International (SSI) were joined by Knox Grammar School alumni on the weekend to take part in a soccer knock-out competition. 

About 40 people took part in the tournament at Lidcombe between teams of five, which was organised by SSI staff on Saturday, February 15.

Also taking part in the competition were about six members of the Knox Grammar Old Boys alumni.

SSI CEO Violet Roumeliotis said the former Knox Grammar students had asked how they could support new arrivals.

“It was very inspiring to see how proactive the boys from Knox Grammar School were in wanting to support people who have come to Australia from very difficult circumstances,” Ms Roumeliotis said.

“One of the school’s alumni, Marco van Westing, approached SSI and asked how he and his friends could help refugees, and those people applying for refugee status, make the transition to living in Australia.

“When staff at SSI proposed a soccer competition for our clients, the Knox Grammar Old Boys thought it was a great opportunity for them to get involved.

“Soccer has proven to be a great way of connecting new arrivals from around the world with communities here in NSW, around a common interest.

“It’s also a healthy activity that helps people who have recently arrived in Australia release some of the stress they have experienced in their ordeals.’’

Ms Roumeliotis said the idea for a soccer competition came from SSI Case Manager Javier Ortiz.

Mr Ortiz said many SSI clients had shown an interest in playing soccer in the past, so he wanted to organise a regular outlet for that enthusiasm.

Saturday’s knockout competition would hopefully be the start of a regular event for SSI staff and its clients, he said.

Mr van Westing, 19, who graduated from Knox Grammar at the end of 2012, said he and his former school’s alumni had wanted to participate in more community work when he approached SSI.

“When we first approached SSI about getting involved and working with refugees and asylum seekers, we were told it might be a good idea to attend the SSI Community Kitchen program with some of those new arrivals,” Mr van Westing said.

“We met some of those people who had recently arrived in the country and we thought we would definitely like to help them get more involved in Australian culture.

“But at the same time, we realise it’s important to empathise with them and try to understand and respect the cultures they have come from.

“Soccer is a universal game and I think it helps break down barriers.”

Mr van Westing said he hoped the Knox Grammar Old Boys could take part in regular events with SSI and the refugees and asylum seekers it works with.

He also hoped to get current Knox Grammar School students involved in working with the sector, and he planned to speak to the school about his experiences with refugees and asylum seekers.



Media enquiries:

SSI Online Communications Coordinator, Callan Lawrence, 0478 156 491, or, 02 8799 6746

SSI Marketing and Communications Manager, Angela Calabrese 0401 284 828




Olympic judo coach helps teenage asylum seekers

Hussain and Shaheen. Talented teenagers Shaheen and Hussain Moghadamshaidie could represent NSW in judo at the National Championships if they can raise the money to travel to qualifying competitions around the country.

The boys, aged 15 and 16, have already impressed state and national coaches after Settlement Services International (SSI) and their Castle Hill judo club supported their enthusiasm to participate in the Olympic sport. SSI is a leading not-for-profit organisation providing a range of services in the areas of humanitarian settlement, accommodation, asylum seeker assistance and foster care in NSW.

Hussain and his brother Shaheen have been living in the community along with their father, mother and baby brother, awaiting the outcome of an application for refugee status since July last year.

The family is supported by SSI and is currently living in North Parramatta on bridging visas.

SSI CEO Violet Roumeliotis said Shaheen and Hussain had immediately wanted to start judo training when they arrived in Australia but their family had no money to pay for registration or uniforms.

“Judo is one of the most popular sports in the boys’ country of birth, Iran, so they were eager to look for a judo club to train with in Australia,” Ms Roumeliotis said.

“Because they are on bridging visas, their parents are unable to work and had limited funds to pay for judo costs.

“Shaheen and Hussain were lucky enough to find the Budokan Judo Club in Castle Hill, which is run by former Olympic coach and organiser of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games judo competition Rob Katz.

“Mr Katz and his club have very generously sponsored the boys by paying their costs for the first 12 months of membership. This includes four judo uniforms partially sponsored by the club’s supplier Sensei’ Martial Arts.

“But, from the boy’s success in the sport, the family now needs about $700 to pay for travel and accommodation to events in order to qualify for the National Championships.”

Ali Moghadamshaidie, the boys’ father, said Mr Katz and the Budokan Judo Club had treated them like family.

“This club is not only for Judo,” he said, “this club, for me and my sons, my wife and baby son, is like a school or family.”

“We have no family here or friends, this club is very good for us.”

Mr Katz is one of Australia’s most experienced judo experts. He has coached athletes to three world championships and coached his wife Kerry to the Seoul Olympic Games in 1988. Mr Katz was also employed as Sports Services Manager to organise the judo competition for the 2000 Sydney Games.

Mr Katz said Shaheen and Hussain’s father approached him about the boys joining the club last year but said nothing of their plight.

“Their father called me first and said they were doing judo in Iran but hadn’t been training for a year,” Mr Katz said.

“Only later did I find out it was because they were in a detention centre.

“I thought it was amazing that one of the first things they wanted to do was get on a mat and start training in judo again.

“After a few weeks Ali called and said the boys were at home very upset because they had no money for judo.

“I said, if they want to train bring them down to the club and we’ll work something out.”

Rob said it was immediately obvious the boys had a passion and strong fighting spirit.

“Obviously they have been out of training for a year, so some of the technique isn’t quite there but what they have is fight. They know how to fight and you can’t always teach that.”

Rob said Shaheen and Hussain were good enough to make the NSW team if they could compete at the qualifying competitions in Canberra, Queensland and Shoalhaven and participate at State Squad training.

The brothers said they were extremely thankful for their coach’s support.

”He is a very nice man, very kind,” Hussain said.

Hussain added that he hoped to represent NSW and one day compete for Australia.

“I like judo because I see it on TV at Olympic Games,” he said.

“One day I want to be like them and go to Olympic Games for Australia.”

SSI and Budokan Judo Club are now appealing to anyone interested in sponsoring the boys to contact the club to discuss how they can support their campaign to make the NSW team.

Shaheen and Hussain next need to compete in the ACT International Open, February 22-23, in Canberra.




Media enquiries:


SSI Online Communications Coordinator, Callan Lawrence, 0478 156 491, or 02 8799 6746

Joy from toys for girls and boys

Centrelink toy driveSettlement Service International’s youngest clients will receive hundreds of toys over the coming weeks thanks to the generosity of local Department of Human Services staff.

The idea of a toy drive for refugee families came to the department’s Mount Druitt Multicultural Services Officer David Jacquin while he was making room for new Christmas gifts for his own children.

Mr Jacquin approached Settlement Services International (SSI) with the idea to see if the organisation could distribute the gifts donated by the department’s staff to the many families it supports. SSI agreed and the generous scheme was born.

“When refugee families arrive here, they have nothing,” Mr Jacquin said.

“I thought, when they get here we could give the children a gift and immediately put a smile on their faces. That’s my vision for this.”

Mr Jacquin said the idea for a toy drive after Christmas had been supported enthusiastically by department staff, and so far three van-loads of toys had been collected.

“When I was cleaning up at home after Christmas, I thought ‘These toys are too good to throw out!’ I’d worked with refugees before and immediately knew what I could do with the toys.”

SSI Humanitarian Settlement Services Delivery Manager Yamamah Agha said the gifts would benefit those refugee families who may be financially vulnerable.

“It will benefit the kids whose families might not be able to afford toys like other Australians,” Yamamah said.

“You can just tell this will put smiles on their faces.”

The toys were collected at Centrelink customer service centres around Sydney and will be distributed by SSI staff to clients within those same communities.

Soccer unites refugees but who will give them a game?

Soccer is often called the game that unites the world but a group of refugees and asylum seekers from around the globe have found financial obstacles in their attempt to unite as a team in Sydney.

Soccer coach Essa Khan on a soccer field holding a ball.Coach Essa Khan at his team's makeshift training ground in Auburn. 

Players in the team unofficially known as Auburn United FC have come to Australia from Afghanistan, Africa, Nepal, Turkey and Tajikistan to find asylum.

According to Settlement Services International (SSI) CEO Violet Roumeliotis, most of the team members are on bridging visas, which means they are unable to work.

SSI provides case management and other support services to many of the refugee and asylum seeker members of the team. Other players are full-time overseas students.

“Living on a tight budget, these players have no funds to pay registration fees of between $200 and $300 each to join an organised competition,” Ms Roumeliotis said.

“Without support from a sponsor, they have no hope of playing the world game in Australia.

Their options for engaging in Sydney’s cultural life are limited but they come together to play soccer, or football to most of the world, every week.

Until eight months ago, they formed only ad-hoc to play with whoever turned up to Auburn Park on any given night.

But when Afghan asylum seeker and soccer coach Essa Khan, 44, found them kicking a ball in the dark while out walking, he quickly rounded them up in to a team.

“It’s my passion and I like to give something to the young people,” Essa said with his Settlement Services International case manager Archana Ghale interpreting.

“It helps their health, they can engage in an activity and avoid anti-social behaviour.

“It’s better to play football than to get involved in alcohol or drugs.”

The two -dozen or so players now train every week and play regularly against other social clubs.

Mr Khan said he had played football in Afghanistan, and later Pakistan, before injuring his leg and taking up coaching; so getting the team together came naturally.

One of Auburn United’s players, Syed Rafi Musawi, said Mr Khan had organised the team and given its players direction and something to do with their time.

Syed, a 20-year-old accounting student at Granville TAFE, said football had been the perfect vehicle for helping refugees and asylum seekers engage in Australian culture.

“Australia is multicultural and this is a multicultural game,” he said.

“People from all different communities can come and play.”

Both Syed and Essa said the team was desperate to register in an official competition so they could play regularly and participate in an Australian way of life.

The players, with the help of Settlement Services International, are now looking for sponsors to help them meet the cost of joining a club in western Sydney.

Organisations, and individuals, with an interest in sponsoring the team can contact SSI on (02) 8799 6746.

Refugee boy battles war trauma on first day of school

NoranEdLike most children, Noran Zahrooni was terrified of starting school today.

But it wasn't teachers or lessons that had him anxious.

The six-year-old and his family arrived in Australia late last year after fleeing war-torn Syria.

Father Farhan Zahrooni told SBS his son was traumatised by the conflict and struggled to understand he was now safe.

"In Syria they usually targeted schools, so he thinks that if he goes to school he will be in danger and no one will save him," Mr Zahrooni said through a translator.

Originally from Iraq, Mr Zahrooni and his wife, Ebtisam Al-Zuhairi, fled to Syria seven years ago after the family was targeted as members of the minority religious group, the Mandeans, in violent attacks.

"My wife was alone at home with the kids, and she was beaten and assaulted," Mr Zahrooni said of one incident.

Shortly before they escaped, Mrs Al-Zuhairi’s brother was kidnapped and shot.

"We found him dead in the street," Mr Zahrooni said.

But escaping to Syria provided only short-term relief from violence.

"The first three years were OK but after the war started, the situation became worse," Mr Zahrooni said.

The family's house was twice the target of attacks, and in one event Mr Zahrooni and his young son were crushed by a window that fell during an explosion.

After a number of unsuccessful applications for refugee status, the family were finally able to move to Australia in December 2013 after being recognised as genuine refugees.

The couple have four sons ranging in age from six to 17 - and son Raghdan, 16, said the older boys had not been in school for at least four years due to the conflict.

Yamamah Agha, a service delivery manager with Settlement Services International, told SBS that refugee children commonly struggled with "trauma, loss of family, fear of war, fear of strangers and an inability to cope and focus".

But she said NSW had good systems in place to help with the transition.

"Our experience with schools, with a large number of multicultural students, [is that] they do have extra help for them," she said. "They’re usually welcoming, they’re very supportive."

Raghdan and brothers Arduan, 14, and Saman, 17, start school tomorrow and are excited to get straight into an intensive English-learning program.

 "The main thing is to learn English so I can gain confidence," Raghdan said.

And they have a lot to look forward to if brother Noran's first day is anything to go by.

Parents Farhan and Ebtisam said that despite his fears, their son's first day at Marsden Road Public School - where he was registered and shown around - had gone off without a hitch.

"His experience today was really positive because he saw all the kids playing and smiling and he didn't feel the danger around there," Mr Zahrooni said.

"I can see how happy he is and this of course, as a mother, brings me happiness," Mrs Al-Zuhairi added.

The couple hope it's a sign of things to come.

"When I looked at his eyes and I see how happy he is wearing the uniform, I feel really happy and relaxed, Mr Zahrooni said.

"And I feel that everything will be beautiful."

 Note: This story by Sylvia Varnham O'Regan first appeared on SBS News.


Success stories

Kamiran and Zozan - A taste of Syria in Coffs Harbour

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Kamiran and Zozan came to Australia from Syria with their family two years ago. Their life in Syria revolved around owning a restaurant specialising in delicious, local cuisine, frequented by friends, family and the community on a regular basis. Here in Australia, they’re re-discovering their passion for food, and are looking to bring a taste of Syria for the Coffs Harbour community to enjoy.

Read more ...