The theme for Refugee Week 2023 is finding freedom; one that aligns directly with the impact SisterWorks makes in supporting migrant, refugee and asylum-seeker women achieve all-important economic freedom and the opportunites it affords for themselves and their families. It's with great pleasure and admiration that I showcase our incredible partner, SisterWorks, this Refugee Week.
Nestled among the famed retail and hospitality offerings of iconic Bridge Road, Richmond, is a storefront and cafe bursting with possibilities. The front window is filled with handcrafted gifts and toys, with art and bright colour capturing changing futures in real time. This is the home of SisterWorks, a certified social enterprise that helps migrant, refugee and asylum-seeker women build a better life in Australia.
“Being able to have a steady financial stream is very important,” says Maria Chindris, SisterWorks’ community relations lead.
When Maria, a second generation migrant whose parents fled political persecution in Romania, found SisterWorks as a university intern she fell in love.
“I saw the value of lifting migrant communities as well as refugee communities; not only for the impact that has on themselves but also for their families, lifting up their children and everyone around them.”
Over the past nine yearsSisterWorks has supported over 1400 women in their transition to life in Australia. “We’ve been able to support women from over 95 different countries. It speaks to a very high level of diversity. Despite that, the women are still able to connect with each other like a sisterhood. That’s why we call our women Sisters.”
SisterWorks supports their “Sisters” in a variety of ways, from training and job opportunities to formal education, community involvement and enabling entrepreneurship. When women join the organisation, their aspirations are assessed, to see where their needs can be met.
Connection and community are very important values at SisterWorks and integral to the success of the programs.
“A key point of connection can be shared hardship; when you find someone else who has experienced the same challenge as you. It helps you not feel alone, and to overcome those challenges.”
That was the experience for Faith, who is originally from Papua New Guinea and joined SisterWorks in late 2017. Fleeing family violence, Faith arrived in Melbourne without her family and found herself seeking kinship and community. While she was a teacher in PNG, Faith felt slightly directionless when she first arrived in Australia and took up free community craft classes.
With the support of the SisterWorks and the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre communities, Faith undertook workshops and then ran her own, giving her the training and confidence to take on her first job.
"SisterWorks gave me a starting point for my career and my journey in Australia … It was that starting of meeting people and working with people," Faith says. The community and experiences give her confidence to express herself, and say “this is me, this is who I am, this is my story”.
Refugee Week aims to celebrate and create better understanding between communities in Australia, and to encourage the successful and safe integration of refugees to Australian society, while demonstrating their many valuable contributions. As a leader in community relations, Maria says that better allyship between communities starts with open ears, open minds, and open hearts.
“Just have conversations, understand why they’ve come to Australia and ask them directly what they need to feel supported, to not sort of assume as well. You have to speak directly to that community and understand what they need to feel more accepted in society,” says Chindris. “Everyone is just human at the end of the day.”
One of the SisterWorks programs is in own-branded products, including their fig jam, or Moraba Ye Anjir. The recipe was originally created by – and licensed from – Vajiheh, a Sister who joined the organisation from Iran. She taught the recipe to other Sisters, who then produced the product for sale.