Parishioners from St Bernadette’s at Castle Hill are building on the parish’s long history of supporting refugees by forming a new group to mentor an Afghan refugee family who arrived in Australia following the Taliban’s takeover of their homeland.
The mentoring relationship is part of Catholic Care’s Parish Group Mentorship Program (GMP) which is a partnership between Catholic Care and Community Refugee Sponsorship Australia (CRSA).
Catholic Care’s Manager of Community Engagement, Celia Vagg says parish mentorship of refugees offers a way to demonstrate love to our new neighbours, to show our solidarity with the marginalised and suffering, and welcome strangers as new friends. The program helps refugees successfully settle and integrate into their new communities and fosters connection between locals and refugees.
Joanne Long, a parishioner at St Bernadette’s who leads the parish group, says she first became involved after seeing Catholic Care’s notice about it on the parish’s Facebook page.
“I know Fr Fernando was keen to have our parish help refugees and I was happy to be part of it, because I’d seen how my brother-in-law’s family are still in touch with a Vietnamese refugee family they supported years ago, and how lovely that is.”
Joanne says there are currently six other people from St Bernadette’s and four members of the wider community involved in the refugee support group. They are mentoring a young Afghan couple and their children who arrived as refugees in December and are living in the Hills district. The couple, in their 30s, have four children under six years of age. Both parents have university degrees. The wife was working in Human Resources for an international company when the Taliban took over and the husband worked with a company which had Australian links, and which helped them to escape over the border into Pakistan.
She says CRSA provided training and support for group-members and continues to do so. “We all had to do the usual security and Working With Children checks,” she says. “And then, because of COVID, we did our six-hour training course online over two days. Normally CRSA would hold in-person workshops. They work with lots of groups from all over Australia and the world, so we feel very well supported by them.”
The first request for the group was to help find a computer for the refugee family, as they had to leave theirs behind when they fled Afghanistan, and they require one to complete their online English courses through TAFE, among other day-to-day reasons. “We put out a call in the parish newsletter and one parishioner, who works for a major financial services company, donated 12 laptops which were almost brand-new, and we’ve been able to distribute them to other refugee families across Sydney,” Joanne says.
“We’ve also helped set the family up on their mobile phones and the parish raised money over Christmas which helped provide them with food voucher debit cards, as they’ve arrived with no money and no job. We’ve met for coffee, walks, picnics and provided general information about government processes, job-seeking, community links, playgroup and sport and helped with school fees, uniforms and household bills.
“In the future we’ll help them get their driver’s licence and get their driving hours up.
“A big part of it though, is just friendship. They’ve arrived in a new country, with few connections, so friendship is really important.”
The GMP was developed as a proof of concept to show government and policy makers that a full Canadian-style ‘community sponsorship’ program could succeed in Australia. With the introduction of the new federal government approved Community Refugee Integration and Settlement Pilot (CRISP), the GMP had achieved its initial purpose and CRSA ceased accepting new applications, with new groups instead encouraged to participate in the CRISP.
To learn more about how your parish can sponsor a refugee family as part of the CRISP program, contact Rita Hakkoum at Catholic Care: 0477952024 or [email protected]
How parishes can be involved in the Refugee sponsorship Program.
Step 1: register for upcoming live info sessions via events page or watch this pre-recorded information session
Step 2: form a group of at least 5 community members from your Church (non-parishioners welcome). Members will need a National Criminal History Check (AFP Check) and Working With Children Check.
If you need more participants in your area to form a group with, please post your interest on the CRSA Facebook group.
Step 3: Register your group’s by submitting a more formal application by registering your ‘Intention to Apply.’
Step 4: Groups across the Diocese who have registered as a group will receive training. Following training, groups are encouraged to research their local community through the eyes of a refugee newcomer to find out what the local opportunities, resources and challenges are likely to be, as Parish sponsor groups assist refugees with some of their immediate needs on arrival and during their first 12 months in the country. This includes help with:
· local orientation, including meeting refugees at the airport
· initial income support (first 1-2 weeks) and temporary accommodation (estimated 4 – 6 weeks)
· securing long-term housing
· enrolling children in school
· registering for Centrelink support
· registering with other government services and language classes
· accessing social opportunities and emotional support
· opening bank accounts
· learning English
· using public transport
· getting a driver’s license
· finding a job or starting a business
Groups will also consider how they can welcome people as part of the community through social activities, events and informal ways of showing care.
Step 5: Groups are matched with a refugee individual or family and even get the chance to contact them overseas so they have knowledge of who to expect and start building a connection, (families or individuals might not be from a faith background).
Step 6: Groups support their individual/family as a community with ongoing check-ins and support from Catholic Care.
As a supporting organisation we can offer a whole range of supporting services and we are here to step in and help with any situation.
Communities can also host with support and guidance from Catholic Care “Community Conversations with Refugees” where participants hear first-hand from refugees and people seeking protection and learn more about the issue. Image from Springwood Community Conversation: