Working with refugee women in rural communities
A few months ago McAuley Community Services For Women’s (MCSFW) Employment Support Program McAuley Works received a request for assistance on behalf of a group of women who faced more challenges than most in obtaining work.
The women are refugees, living in a Victorian regional area. In the main, they have had no employment history. Their English is limited; some have never been to school, and for all, literacy is a challenge. Some are also dealing with other issues such as family violence, legal problems and utility debts.
Volunteers who had been working with these women in their home town reached out to McAuley Works to see if they could help. They knew about McAuley Works because of its reputation in working with women with multiple and complex disadvantage, and it’s links to the WIRE Purse Project, a financial abuse and financial capability workshop targeted at family violence workers.
McAuley Works Coordinator Justine made a three-hour round trip initially to meet with the women and those supporting them, find out more about their needs and register them to begin receiving intensive assistance to find jobs. The women were keen to find work as a way to gain financial independence as well as the other less tangible benefits of working – increased confidence and self-esteem.
Because of their location, they face additional barriers in finding work. Justine says: ‘A very real challenge we are dealing with is the tyranny of distance, the lack of employment opportunities in regional towns, and other problems like not having a car when they are living on the outskirts of town and other forms of transport are very limited.
‘They also have childcare challenges; one of the women has seven children, four of them at home.’
The McAuley Works program concentrates on the positives women have in re-imagining a future and how they could present these to potential employers; one woman for example speaks three languages, while another has a green thumb and has nurtured a vegetable garden at her local community house. The women are receiving intensive support coaching in vital job ready skills, preparation for interviews and boosting the confidence they need to gain jobs in the open market.
Recently Justine connected them with Fitted for Work – an organisation which helps transform a woman’s interview presentation, through the provision of high quality donated business clothing.
Because Fitted for Work is in Melbourne, the women needed to take a 5.45am train from their home to the unfamiliar big smoke of Melbourne.
‘The women were incredibly excited and enthusiastic about the whole experience. Seeing themselves wearing their new outfits was transformative,’ says Justine. ‘It helped them visualise building a new life as well.’
Their journeys to Melbourne involved intense emotion as well as the hundreds of kilometres travelled. ‘There were tears shed, and a lot of gratitude and appreciation about the opportunity. A couple of them told us later that they fell asleep on the return trip home on the train, exhausted, a little overwhelmed but very excited about their chances of getting into work.’