Ethnic Council celebrates Refugee Week

Partnership: Goulburn Ovens Institute of TAFE co-ordinator of diversity and inclusion Daniel Gardner, Ethnic Council of Shepparton and District’s Sam Atukorala and GO TAFE acting co-ordinator of English language education Rachel Carkeek.

Shepparton is the first stop for many migrants with refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds who are newly arrived in Australia, and the place where many will carve out their new lives.

But it doesn’t take long for these new arrivals to make their mark, having a huge impact on the local economy.

Refugees have become integral to Greater Shepparton’s economic prosperity, taking on skilled and unskilled jobs across local industry.

“They are not only calling Australia and Shepparton home, but also contributing back to the community,” Ethnic Council of Shepparton and District strategic engagement co-ordinator Sam Atukorala said.

But more than that, the refugee community is a key part of the region’s cultural soul.

“They have the restaurants, to shops and the community groups; the Afghan community built their own mosque here,” Mr Atukorala said.

With some new arrivals often alone and not speaking English, the Ethnic Council and Goulburn Ovens Institute of TAFE are two vital pillars in welcoming migrants to the community.

“GO TAFE is the the place where refugees learn English; language is a crucial thing for settlement,” Mr Atukorala said.

Now the two organisations are partnering to celebrate Refugee Week (Sunday, June 19 to Saturday, June 25).

“It’s really important to celebrate the successes of these peoples’ journeys ... and also understand there are still people waiting inside detention centres or refugee camps waiting to come to a country like this and build a new life,” Mr Atukorala said.

Quite a few of the staff at the Ethnic Council are themselves from refugee backgrounds.

GO TAFE will be airing a documentary produced by the Ethnic Council telling the story of community development officer Thon Thon’s long walk from Sudan to Shepparton.

Mr Thon is one of the The Lost Boys of Sudan, a group of over 20,000 boys of the Nuer and Dinka ethnic groups who were displaced or orphaned during the second Sudanese civil war.

The documentary detailing Mr Thon’s more than 2000km journey to find asylum will be aired on Wednesday, June 22 at 10am in GO TAFE’s Harder Auditorium.

Friendship Café

Refugee week is an important observance for Ethnic Council project officer Aleena Qazikhil, who came to Shepparton as a refugee herself.

She now runs the Friendship Café, which brings together culturally and linguistically diverse women who are new to the region.

“I want to tell the ladies about my background as a refugee lady that came to Australia and how I started work with the community and how I can help support the ladies with what they want to be in the future,” Ms Qazikhil said.

In the past the group has had trouble with attendance because many women are too busy to attend.

But Ms Qazikhil has gone through the isolation and loneliness of settling into a new country on her own, and is determined to reach out.

To make the group more accessible, she is bringing the Friendship Café to GO TAFE on June 24, where newly arrived women are learning English.