Refugee girls discovering new skills through Girl Guides

Their journey to Australia was a hard one, fleeing their homes in the search for a better life. Arriving with little means there's much to gain and a young group of girls is getting a head start through an age-old establishment.

In Melbourne’s south eastern suburbs, a new class of Girl Guides is emerging, and English isn’t the only language they’re taking the traditional pledge in.

“I promise, to do my best, to be true to myself, to serve my community, and Australia,” a group of 14 Dandenong West Primary School girls beam, as SBS pay them a visit.

These young students are part of a changing Girl Guides direction, to boost the confidence of new arrival communities, and bring diversity to leaders of the future.

Among the Girl Guides at the school, are Year 4 and 5 students from Africa, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

'It makes me feel like girls can do things that boys can't.'
Suraya Qasimi's family came to Australia from Afghanistan.

The 10-year-old has made new friends since joining, and is a quick learner. 

“We’re all from different countries, we speak different languages," she said.

"It’s fun, we can say hello in different languages, which is very fun.

“Ni Hao, Bonjour, Salam.” 

Refugee, Rukhsar Afzali, has been part of Girl Guides for a year, and enjoys learning to make arts and crafts, and playing games with her group of new friends. 

The Year 4 student has also learned valuable lessons, she told SBS.

“It makes me feel like girls can do things that boys can't," she said.

"And we can do things, as in, fix cars, do buildings.” 

Dandenong West Primary School principal, Bev Hansen, said more than a third of her students were refugees. 

“Ninety-three per cent of our students have a language background other than English, and many have been here less than 12 months,” Ms Hansen told SBS.

'We're all one. We have one world, and we're all the same.'
“Many of our students have spent many years in refugee camps, they've experienced war.”

The group begun as a trial at the school, but Girl Guides leader, Jeanette Cox, said they quickly saw results.

“Within about four, five weeks, the teachers started coming up to me saying, ‘what are you doing in girl guides? It's made a difference. These girls are putting up their hands, they’re confident, and answering questions’,” she said.

Next year the Girl Guides will expand to include a group focused specifically on Afghan refugees - a growing demographic identified by Girl Guides Victoria and the Southern Migrant and Refugee Centre.

Mel Reoch, from Girl Guides Victoria, said they’re also looking to recruit young women of Afghan descent, to lead those girls, and become central figures in their community.

“Inter-generational relationships are really important for building self-esteem and resilience with girls,” she said. 

The Victorian government has provided funding, as part of a greater program to reduce family violence and promote gender equality and social cohesion. 

For the young students, that message seems clear. 

“We're all one. We have one world, and we're all the same,” Suraya said.

"We're not the 'same', but we are the same.”

3 min read
Published 13 October 2016 at 5:03pm
By Sarah Abo