A sweet start

by | Jul 9, 2024 | Posted to: Case studies | Tags: , ,

Ballina local, Sue Milne, had created a life centred around community and connection, but she’d never experienced it like this before. With a bunch of friends and neighbours, Sue formed a support group to welcome refugee newcomers to Ballina. It turned out to be one of the best experiences of her life.

“It’s just such a pleasure for everyone,” said Sue – referring to her fellow volunteers, eleven in total and all members of BR4R, the Ballina Region for Refugees.

The group had been matched with the Haddad family. Mary Haddad and her children, Bashar and Nagham Farhat, were among the first refugees to arrive under the Community Refugee Integration and Settlement Pilot (CRISP). They landed in Australia in late 2022, after three years of living in Erbil in northern Iraq, having fled war-torn Syria.

“I was worried about going to a new country with a new culture, thinking it would be hard to settle on our own and not being able to get around,” said Bashar, “When they spoke to us about the group, all my worries went away. There would be someone to support us morally more than anything else… I felt much less stressed.”

Stress had been a factor for the family. Bashar was concerned for his mother’s health, with her high blood pressure and heart palpitations.

But fast forward a few months and Mary was living a completely different life. One of better health and quality of life. She began to feel creative again. Mary had been an artist in Syria and had also loved to cook. These passions began to resurface once she’d settled into her new home.

She had the idea to set up her own business, one where she could use her skills of cooking and craft. With the help of the group, she set up Sweet Mary’s Sweets, selling Syrian desserts and delicacies to local cafes in the region.

Mary continued to go from one strength to the next. She was invited as a key speaker at an event held at the Lennox Heads Cultural Center for World Refugee Day. Here, Mary spoke about the immense relief she felt for her children, for their well-being:

“There will be a future for them, for the younger generation. After losing many years due to the war, they can now live in harmony in Australia,” she said.

Mary reflected on how much her life had changed in the five-months since she’d arrived in Australia. She had rediscovered the joy of friendship, her creative pursuits and her work.

“I’m happy and proud of what we have achieved in this time,” she said. “But in a practical sense, we couldn’t have done this without the group. Sometimes I feel hopeless but just for one day. I’m able to get focused back on what I’m working, almost like it was not there. I don’t know what the future holds but for now we are happy here. These friendships and relationships didn’t come easily, we won’t give them up easily. We have made a lot of friends here.”