In early 2016 in response to the Australian government’s plans to accept a further 12 000 refugees from the Syrian conflict, Lighthouse decided we needed to be involved! Wollongong has always been a multicultural place with hundreds of people from refugee backgrounds moving into the area every year. To begin with we met with many of the major services who work in this sector to discuss what is already happening, how we could partner and be involved. Four clear challenges were presented : Meaningful employment, long term accommodation, English language skills, and social inclusion. We quickly identified that as a community most of us spoke English and were relatively friendly so in some way we could help with conversational English and social inclusion.
We then partnered with a local organisation who has decades of experience in the sector who could help us and so our fortnightly English conversations began!
The most powerful element of this, for those participating and for those volunteering has been the development of friendships with people we would usually never connect with. How much a simple conversation with someone who is newly arrived in Australia means to them is amazing! People from refugee backgrounds often arrive with nothing, are separated from family, have experienced significant trauma, and can quickly become isolated. In conversation we have realized that they want nothing more than to feel a part of their local community and we wanted to be the ones to help them feel that.