Not-for-profit service Connections Australia is helping migrants navigate a new country. Its founder Rinku Razdan says it’s the least she can do for those needing support like she once did.
Rinku Razdan knows how hard life can be in a new country.
Born in Dehradun, four hours north of Delhi in India, Rinku moved to Australia as a 20-year-old.
But after seven years in Sydney living an arranged marriage, she left her husband and was forced to start again.
“I wanted my son to experience a wonderful childhood, and not have any bad memories, and I am so glad I did that,” she told SBS.
Now a successful management consultant in Sydney, Rinku reflects on the weekday morning that changed her life.
She walked out of the family home with her three-year-old son after packing what little she possessed into a suitcase.
Rinku had a job but left with just $20 in her purse and a small amount saved in the bank. As her husband controlled their finances, she changed an account into her own name.
“For the first year, all we ate was peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” she said.
“Occasionally, a local grocer would give us leftover fruit and vegetables.
“I got a little shanty in Parramatta and I moved in there, at least I had a shelter and I had a job, and that was the important thing.”
Despite her qualifications - a master’s degree in English literature, a degree in engineering and a diploma in software engineering - Rinku was at the time working in motor claims management.
As a single mother with no family in Australia, she initially struggled to find the support she needed to get by.
With that firsthand experience in mind, last year she began working part-time on a multilingual website, designed to connect migrants with resources to help ease the transition to a new life.
Connections Australia is now run from Parramatta by a team originating from India, the Philippines and Vietnam, as well as Australia.
“We are all 100 per cent volunteers. We work nights and weekends and we are so passionate about this that we haven’t had a weekend off in years,” Rinku said.
“We have all taken job cuts and made significant changes in our life to keep the momentum.”
In July this year, Rinku launched the Connections app, designed particularly for new migrants, and matching skills and experience with job opportunities.
Connections technical lead Alex Bunting is a software engineer for a major technology company and is happy to donate time to helping others while working at a corporate job.
“Let’s say if you are looking for work, and put your details into our mobile app, and say ‘I am an international student and can only work 20 hours or less and on certain days’, then you add skills and qualifications including international experience and based on that, we match you with a job,” he said.
The app also allows migrant communities to connect, by collating social and demographic data.
“Community is our most popular tile,” Rinku said.
“Let’s say you want to know where all the Italian people are. This shows you which suburb they live in whether Sydney, Brisbane or Melbourne. And it also shows all the upcoming events, demographic and family statistics so you can choose where to live”.
Since July, Connections has recorded more than 35,000 hits on the platform, and Rinku says that number is growing every month.
It’s something Rinku wished was available when she re-started her life in Australia.
“I didn’t know things that people take for granted. I had never seen an ATM ... I saw people going to a wall and coming back with money and I was like ‘Oh that’s why they call this a lucky country’,” she said.
“So I asked someone in the street, and rather than just explain it to me, they made fun of me.
“I was so embarrassed and I came home and cried my eyes out.”
A decade later, Rinku helped roll out more than 3,000 ATMs Australia-wide while working for a major bank.
“The more people said to me ‘Oh you are just a migrant woman you can’t do this’, the more determined I was becoming,” she said.
Aydin Jabbarzad is one of Connections Australia’s success stories. The trained industrial engineer from Iran had project management experience at large companies but struggled for 18 months to find work when he arrived in Sydney in 2017 on a skilled migrant visa.
“I tried for more than 300 positions, but no job,” he said.
“My wife and I were losing our savings, and I was beyond stressed.”
“I went to a project management interview and I knew all the answers in my head but was unable to speak, or tell the interviewer why I was the right person to hire.”
To make ends meet, Aydin took maintenance work at an aged care facility.
He later registered with Connections Australia in 2018 and Rinku introduced him to a large bank. A six-month contract transformed his career.
“I owe her my whole life here. After that job placement, it’s so much easier to get a job now. I needed local experience, so now if I apply for a job, immediately I get a call.”
Underemployment in Australia is sitting at an historic high of 8.4 per cent and, like many skilled migrants, Aydin was initially working in a job below his level of skills and qualifications.
CEO of Migration Council Australia Carla Wilshire said better support systems are needed to get skilled migrants into relevant companies.
"The faster we can get someone to fully utilise their qualifications and into an industry that’s relevant, the greater benefit for our economy and society because we get to full participation faster," she said.
Connections Australia aims to smooth the transition process, Rinku said.
“It’s not just the big information like how to get an ABN, TFN and Medicare card. It’s also information about life – how to top up your Opal card, what the flags on the beach mean, and how to place rubbish into the correct bin.
“We are so passionate about making life easier for migrants, so others don’t have to struggle.”
Now feeling settled in Australia, Rinku and her teenage son are about to take their first overseas holiday.
He is a business student at university and she hopes, one day, he might take her venture to the world.
Readers seeking support can contact Lifeline crisis support on 13 11 14, Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 and Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 (for young people aged 5 to 25). More information is available at Beyond Blue.org.au and lifeline.org.au.