“Scarf changed my life,” says Varsini Gunasakar.
Gunasakar is one of more than 120 refugees and asylum seekers who have learned new skills – and created some delicious dinners – through the Melbourne not-for-profit hospitality scheme that started in 2010.
After working in restaurants for several years and doing volunteer work with refugees in Melbourne, Hannah Colman and Jess Moran came up with a great idea.
“We were getting to know these young refugees looking for jobs and at the same time, our hospitality bosses wanted to hire more staff and wanted more keen young people in the industry,” Colman, Scarf co-founder and general manager, tells SBS Food. “Scarf was born out of a frustration for these two things. There didn’t seem to be a clear bridge to bring them together.”
In 2010, they created Scarf, a not-for-profit organisation training refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in hospitality and helping them find jobs. Over ten weeks, the trainees, aged between 18 and 28, attend hands-on training sessions on service skills, bar skills, wine service and coffee making.
They get to put what they’ve learned into practice by doing paid work during the Scarf Dinners, where volunteer mentors support them. The current series is running at contemporary Indian restaurant Bhang, in Melbourne's Brunswick, until 28 August.
“Over the course of the 10 weeks, we see people’s confidence develop quite rapidly. They’re often quite nervous in the first couple of weeks because there are a lot of things to learn but once they’ve got some of the processes down pat and start to develop a relationship with their mentor, the mentor steps aside and lets the trainee run the show, which is awesome,” says Colman.
Varsini Gunasakar, who was a refugee from Malaysia, graduated from Scarf in 2017. “When I started looking for a job in Australia, I was not very confident,” she tells SBS Food. “I heard about Scarf through friends so I joined. They trained me and taught me a lot about hospitality. It was so much easier for me to find work in a restaurant after.”
She has since landed a job at leading Melbourne restaurant Cumulus Inc. “Scarf changed my life, it helped me get a job I like,” she says.
Gunasakar is one of many success stories. Around 70 per cent of Scarf trainees find work in the six months following their graduation. They go on to work at restaurants and bars such as Garden State Hotel, Top Paddock and the Sofitel on Collins. Negasi Tesfay, who graduated in 2015 and currently works at The Gasometer Hotel, was a finalist in the Rookie of the Year category in the Bartender Magazine Australian Bar Awards last year. He has returned to Scarf as a volunteer mentor this year to give back to new trainees.
Once the hospitality training is underway, the Scarf team also works with trainees on their resume and interview skills.
“Hospitality is the vehicle, but really we want to make sure that people’s confidence grows, that their network and skills grow, and that they feel that they’re capable and can take the next step, whether it’s in hospitality or elsewhere,” explains Colman.
If you want to help out Scarf (and eat a great meal), you can book for the Winter Scarf Dinners, running every Tuesday at Bhang until August 28. The Spring Scarf Dinner season will start on 25 September.
If you’re a refugee, asylum seeker or migrant facing barriers to work, and you want to train with Scarf, you can find more information here. If you work in hospitality and would like to volunteer as a mentor, you can find out more here.