SisterWorks "sisters" celebrating
Each year asylum seeker, refugee and migrant women arrive in Australia, pursuing a fresh start. For most they have no English language skills or social connections in this new country, and these challenges threaten their prospects of living fulfilling lives.
Fortunately, there are women such as Maria Chindris, who dedicate their work to supporting these women. Maria, who I recently had the pleasure of speaking with, is the Community Relations lead at the Melbourne-based, non profit organisation SisterWorks. Committed to supporting refugee, asylum seeker and migrant women, SisterWorks provides volunteer and employment opportunities, as well as a sense of belonging and a safe space to develop many skills. SisterWorks has supported more than 492 women from 56 different countries.
Maria emphasises that it is vital for us as young people to "be conscious of the language barrier, and be patient. Giving these women the time to develop everyday language and conversational skills goes a long way."
"We were founded by migrant women and the heart of SisterWorks is the support of our women"
Each woman comes from a different background, "some of them move with family, but some of them are coming completely on their own and this puts them in a disadvantaged and vulnerable position". On arrival to Australia, they can be taken advantage of. Maria highlighted that many find themselves "isolated in our community, and in some situations are abused. Be that through abuse of their labour due to their limited english capacity, or underpaying them".
In many cases these women are highly qualified in the country that they have left, however this is not recognised here in Australia. "The whole clean slate thing is really quite sad; they have established their own lives in their country of origin, but once they move they find themselves at level zero again". For many this is a "paradox, as there are a lot of workplaces that require previous work experience here in Australia. They're in this situation where they just want to earn some money to pay their bills and feed themselves and their families, but there's not many workplaces that accept them."
SisterWorks' shop front Richmond, Melbourne
SisterWorks' solution to this issue is to provide "a safe place for the women to develop their skills that will bolster them into employment and educational opportunities".
SisterWorks does this by opening their doors to these women, to provide opportunities to make and sell products, under the SisterWorks label. Without prior work experience, SisterWorks "offer a production line process, where the women make sustainable products, and sell them in our retail stores. We also have a newly developed e-hub, where they're learning IT literacy, as well as a food handler certificate that they can gain through working in our food production. Every position allows them to develop a variety of practical skills."
However, like Maria, you don't have to be an asylum seeker, refugee or migrant woman to volunteer for SisterWorks. Along with these women, they invite the wider community to join in fostering this sisterhood through various volunteer roles. These can be found on our website.
The sustainable and ethically made products that these women create can be bought online through their website, or at one of their physical stores in Richmond (shop front is currently closed due to the circumstances). 50% of the profits made from each product goes directly to the women that make it, and the other half is reinvested to continue the support of these women. Through their website they also accept monetary donations.
One of SisterWorks' sustainable products; Beeswax Food Wrap
"A positive social environment around them, works wonders for these women."
These women emerge from their experience at SisterWorks with the ability to integrate effectively into Australia's society. "The skills that the women develop at SisterWorks are attractive from an employment perspective", Maria also highlighted that "after being inspired by the production line that they see at SisterWorks, many of the women go on to create their own brands".
Maria depicted this through an anecdote where one of the "sisters came to Australia from Syria, as a refugee. She had this passion for food, and during her time at SisterWorks became involved in our food production line, where we make sauces and jams. Within a few years this lead to her opening her own business on Lygon Street, where she sells Syrian pastries. SisterWorks offered her that support she needed, and was able to develop networks here in Australia."
SisterWorks' largest success factor "is the social wellbeing of our women. Just having that safe, nurturing space where they can connect with other women that have gone through similar challenges to them." Some women have also come from backgrounds of domestic violence, and so a safe space where they are surrounded by like-minded women is integral to their development.
Maria Chindris, zoom interview
We are excited to announce our newfound partnership with SisterWorks, and would love to have you on board. Volunteer opportunities are displayed on our website to get involved in this incredible work. These women need our support to gain a sense of belonging, especially during these tough times.
For further information visit https://www.respond.org.au/