Impact Story: Refugees Building a Future Together

Migration to Australia has provided hope to many escaping persecution, war, or violence. However, refugees often face significant challenges as they try to rebuild their lives in a new and unfamiliar society. 

Settling into a new country can be a long and difficult process, having someone they can trust during this time is so valuable.

This is why in early 2023, COACH Network partnered with two social enterprises to support refugees living in the South East Melbourne suburbs to become more economically independent. Empowering Refugees into Employment was launched with two components: the Employment Ready Program (ERP) and COACH Mentoring. Both social enterprises run an Employment Ready Program. This initiative provides refugees with the opportunity to gain workplace experience in Australia and secure an Australian reference. While COACH Network manages the mentoring program specifically designed for refugees, with one of the key goals being employment for each participant. During this time, we have had 24 active mentoring relationships with the support of 20 mentors.

Sarah* was a child when her family fled Afghanistan, taking refuge first in India before eventually settling as a young adult in Melbourne’s south-east. Sarah shared her experience: “When I first came to Australia, it was difficult for me. Everything was new, especially the accent, but slowly I got used to it. However, there were other problems too. I was very stressed and worried because I didn’t know much about how things work here. Also, there were no friends or relatives to help me. Before meeting my mentor, I was pretty much stressed about everything. But then I was introduced to COACH Network, which helped me a lot because I met my mentor, whom I think God wanted me to meet”.

Allyson, Sarah’s mentor, originally from India, shared her perspective: “I’ve relocated many times, and I know what it’s like to be new in a country and not know anyone. People have helped me, and I just feel it’s time to help others. It’s been very rewarding, and I think the two girls I mentor have really brought out the best in me. We’ve shared so much together and had fun together”.

Sarah identified her main goals as obtaining employment, creating a pathway to further studies, taking care of her dental health, and obtaining her driver’s licence. Sarah speaks highly of her mentor: “My mentor helped a lot with my goals, studies, and work. As someone who has studied, worked, and has experience here, she knew what to tell me and how to guide me through difficult things. I am grateful having someone to look after me and help me settle well into a new country. I felt relieved that there was someone I could rely on, someone who could help me with my problems and whom I could share my worries with. I’m happy and grateful for that.”

Sarah has been working for five months in a warehouse. She has recently commenced a six-month course studying for a Certificate III in Information Technology at TAFE. Allyson went with Sarah when she visited a dentist for the first time in her life. Sarah has also obtained her Learners Permit and is learning to drive.
Mentoring has provided invaluable support for refugees like Sarah.  Mentoring helps participants with many of their settlement needs, especially the need for social connections that build a sense of belonging and acceptance in their new community. It assists refugees to improve their English language skills and the ability to manage aspects of daily life in Australia such as accessing health services, paying bills and obtaining a driver’s licence.

Allyson shared her thoughts on mentoring, “I really look forward to my mentoring session every week. I think the main thing of mentoring is just making yourself available to God. I wanted to serve and God found a way for me to serve and it happened through mentoring and you just need to be available. The other quality a mentor needs is to be a friend because that’s what mentoring is about. It’s about being a friend with a purpose, walking alongside someone and just nurturing and guiding them, not really making decisions for them, just nurturing and guiding. As a mentor, we need to just listen, listen to what our mentees need, what they would like and going along with that, being there for them.

Allyson concluded with the reflection, “I think the last few weeks I really found that going through Good Friday and Easter, I thought to myself, I can’t really do Good Friday and I can’t do Easter but what Jesus did on Maundy Thursday when he washed people’s feet and he said, a new commandment I give to love one another, that I can do and so loving people and serving them the way Jesus taught me to do is what I do when I mentor.” By serving and loving people, we can break the isolation, show them friendship, and provide a way into society and a future.

Refugees want the same things most people want: to be educated, employed, and included. COACH Network’s efforts with the support of the following churches: Salvation Army Dandenong, Citylife Church, Crossway Baptist Church, Dandenong Church of Christ, Melbourne Lights Church, and Shalom Trinity Church are making these aspirations a reality, one mentoring relationship at a time.

*Name changed for privacy reasons. 

Charmaine Vis

Regional Training & Network Manager

COACH Network