Sunshine Coast migrants find friendship and support
RICAN refugee Fidelite felt conspicuously different when she arrived in Australia - from her dark skin to the fact she could not say "good morning".
Eight years later, the grandmother was happily chatting with her recently-arrived family and other migrants from a range of nationalities as she finished her final English lesson at the Nambour Community Centre.
On arrival, Fidelite felt alone as one of the 2700 new migrants to the Sunshine Coast each year who often struggle with feelings of isolation, with finding work and forming relationships with their community.
Member for Fairfax Ted O'Brien became the first politician many of the region's newest residents had met when he announced a $405,289 commitment to fund the Settlement Engagement and Transition Support (SETS) program from 2019 to 2022.
Nambour Community Centre migrant settlement worker Linda Dennis said SETS helped people settle into Australia who would otherwise struggle, due to language difficulties.
"Looking for work, getting the kids into school, making new friends, driving, learning to swim, finding out about Australian culture and how the systems are different here," she said of some of the ways the program helps.
Fidelite, originally from an area near the Tanzania Congo, said she had found happiness in the program despite first feeling "scared of people".
"I come to Australia, I don't speak 'good morning'. Now I speak 'good morning'. I listen," she said.
Mr O'Brien said one of the biggest struggles migrants faced was securing work that matched their skills and qualifications, and shared stories of engineers, for example, doing work well below their skill level.
Taiwanese Carol Liu is among them, having finished her Bachelor in Business in her home country she travelled to Australia on a working visa.
While wanderlust drew her here, love has kept her here.
"Three years ago, I came here for a working holiday, but then I met my partner, so now I am living here forever," she beamed.
Ms Liu said the program had helped improve her English, but most importantly it was an opportunity to meet other people and share experiences.
The program has allowed Ms Liu to volunteer as an administration assistant, which she said had helped her gain confidence and networks to help achieve her career goal.
Ms Dennis welcomed the funding for the program which she said had delivered plenty of highlights over five years - "when the people decide among themselves to go to coffee later, when people have been able to get jobs in accordance with their skills and qualifications, when people have been reunited with family from overseas, when they have mastered something that they thought was previously difficult. So having people pass their driving test is awesome".
She said she also helped people people recognise their employment rights when they faced racism.
Most of the migrants Ms Dennis works with hail from the Philippines, Thailand, China, Vietnam, India, Japan, Russia, Peru, Brazil and other parts of Europe.
"The main focus of the program is building connections between migrants and the general community so everyone can benefit," she said.
Ms Dennis urged people who wanted to volunteer their time with migrants - speaking conversational English, having a coffee or other social activities - to get in touch with the Nambour Community Centre on 5441 4660.