Welcome2Sydney shows a new way to build community and wellbeing

The project matches people who live in Sydney with newly arrived refugees.

It’s good to feel welcome

A welcome from a local can go a long way in helping someone who’s fled war and atrocity to feel at ease in a new place.

Many refugees feel fearful and vulnerable when they arrive in Australia. They’ve left behind homes, family members, friends, communities and careers.

While relieved to be physically safe, people face huge challenges, like where to live and how to earn an income when their qualifications and professional experience are not recognised.

Credit: On board the HMS 'Endeavour' at Darling Harbour. Credit: Nader Daher / Settlement Services International

That’s why the pilot Welcome2Sydney project by Settlement Services International and the City of Sydney matches new arrivals with city residents.

Settlement Services International project officer Nader Daher said they work hard to nurture a sense of belonging for refugees and asylum seekers in Sydney.

“We meet newcomers at the airport when they touch down. Having a warm welcome at that moment is profoundly comforting and meaningful. It helps them move forward and anchors everything else.”

Sharing local knowledge with new arrivals

More than 750 newly-arrived refugees have been paired with 40 volunteer Welcome2Sydney ambassadors to learn more about their new home and the services here.

Many refugees live in the city’s outer suburbs, so ambassadors show them how to use local transport and encourage them to explore the city.

Relaxing in the Royal Botanic Garden. Credit: NS / City of Sydney

Outings include The Rocks, Art Gallery of NSW, Australian and Maritime museums, Cockatoo Island, Google, the Royal Botanic Gardens and the Chinese Garden of Friendship. Groups have also enjoyed ferry rides, festivals such as Vivid and Biennale of Sydney, concerts and sporting events.

The meet-ups are also a great way for new arrivals to build confidence in using English, learn about Australian society and Aboriginal histories and cultures.

Visiting the Google offices in Sydney. Google Translate can help bridge language differences. Credit: Nader Daher / Settlement Services International

A little Aussie lingo can go a long way

High school student Salim said the program helped him adapt to how people speak in Australia. He’s learned “you just have to push yourself to communicate” and has picked up a little Aussie slang: avo, servo, smoko and arvo.

Salim’s mother, Mahasen, was an English teacher in Syria. But without new qualifications, it’s a career she’s unlikely to pursue in Australia. She’s now working in a different field.

Kate, Salim, Farhan and Mahasen at Circular Quay. Credit: NS / City of Sydney

“It’s scary to start again,” she said. “We’re adults and I’m working in an area that’s unfamiliar to me. But I enjoy it.”

An opportunity for lifelong connections

Welcome2Sydney participant, Habib, misses family and friends still in Syria and those who’ve fled to other parts of the world. Still in his 20s, the mechanical engineer is excited about a humanitarian cadetship through Settlement Services International in a large infrastructure organisation.

Habib wants to focus on accessibility. His sister has a disability and uses a wheelchair. Sydney’s accessibility gives the family greater options than in Syria.

Habib on the harbour. Credit: NS / City of Sydney

“Australia makes me feel that I am good and strong, that we are all equal,” Habib said. “With Welcome2Sydney we join together and enjoy the city. We’re trying to settle in this community and socialise with locals, not just stay in our own group.”

Lasting friendships show we are 1 society

Local residents who volunteer for Welcome2Sydney are passionate about the project and have made lasting friendships.

Kate was one of the first ambassadors to sign up. “The callout to volunteers was unique,” she said. “They specifically wanted Sydneysiders who aren’t part of the refugees communities. Finding common ground and language interests me.”

“These people have given up everything, yet here they are, sitting on a ferry, laughing and enjoying the sunshine. It’s beautiful that after such hardship, they can be relaxed and happy.

“We were on a picnic at the Botanic Gardens and a lady asked her son to translate ‘happy’ to express this to me.”

“When Mahasen, Farhan and Salim posed for a family photo, they pulled me into it. ‘You’re family!’ they said.”

Ambassador Neil has loved seeing new arrivals become more confident.

Volunteer ambassadors Kate and Neil have become good friends. Credit: NS / City of Sydney

“It’s hard to measure such a program in economic terms,” Neil said. “But making people feel welcome and at home has an impact on the community as a whole, over generations,” he said.

“What Welcome2Sydney has shown us,” said Nader, “is a wonderful increase in wellbeing for everyone.

“It’s important we keep doing this with other new families and people in Sydney. This way we’ll create enriching relationships that bring together people from different backgrounds and cultures. No matter the differences, we are 1 society.”

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