Music helped me connect: Helping refugee women build bridges

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Starting your life all over again is tough, but it's a reality for refugees who leave behind tormented memories to build a new life in a foreign land. A women's network in Melbourne helps newly-arrived refugees find their feet and make new friends.

Migrant and refugee women can often struggle when forging a new life in a new country - many hold onto memories of their lives and loved ones back home.

But a new program aimed specifically at newly arrived women hopes to ease their feelings of isolation and help them engage with women in similar situations.

It all starts with a meeting.

“People come to Australia, new, we are very isolated, and I think it's a good way to connect the communities,” says Ajak Kwai, a project worker with the Brotherhood of St Laurence.

Ajak herself arrived in Australia 16 years ago, fleeing the devastation her family encountered in South Sudan.

She’s involved in the Brotherhood’s ‘Bridging Women’s Worlds’ program, which is run in partnership with the Spectrum Migrant Resource Centre and is aimed specifically at refugee and migrant women.

Ajak says the women are encouraged to share their stories, and find ways to help them make Australia feel more like home.

For her, it was music.

“I cope a lot through music and I love music, I love singing, since I was very young.”

“Music has been very, really, been my survival.”

And it’s been her way of reaching out to the broader community.

“It helps me to connect with Australian people and to be able to share stories with them, stories they don't have.”

Born in Bor, in South Sudan, Ajak moved to Juba with her uncle and brothers then lived in Khartoum in Sudan.

She spent eight years in the Egyptian capital Cairo before settling in Melbourne, via Hobart.

“I have been moving all my life,” Ajak said.

“Because I came from a very broken background, like, really war-torn country. And I see a lot of bad things happen. And I see what hatred can do.”

Music, she believes, can unite people.

Nepalese migrant Madhuri Maskey too, felt isolated when she first arrived here in January with her two daughters.

Her husband has lived in Melbourne for eight years, after leaving Nepal when his job as a political advisor became too risky following the civil war.

Madhuri says her work helping develop programs for women and children was a job she loved and didn't want to leave.

“I never stayed at home, and came here, staying whole day at home doing nothing, and then I was missing so much of my country. So much of the people out there, so much of my work, that liveliness.”

She craved a professional, engaging life, and feared starting from scratch.

“I was so sad, even my husband got frustrated, 'why are you so sad? You are with your family’,” she recalled.

“My mind was going to Nepal, all of the time, most of the time, and I was missing it.”

Then, she found the Bridging Women's Worlds program.

“And I was so happy, I felt like, you know, I am accepted here, I got some place so that I can really thrive, I can enjoy being myself in Australia.”

It's prompted her to enrol in a University course, which she hopes will lead to a job similar to the one she held in Nepal.

Source SBS

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