My Sister's Keeper: Women’s network supporting new migrants facing abuse

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An African women’s network supporting new arrivals facing abuse is proving so successful it’s opening its arms to migrant women from all cultures.

It started by word-of-mouth as the result of tragedy, but now My Sister’s Keeper - an African women’s network to support new arrivals who face abuse - is proving so successful it’s opening its arms to other cultures.

"We were all either suffering from stress, from depression, from domestic violence, from rape, but we were so scared to talk about it," said Emily Tanui, President of My Sister’s Keeper.

"It is a big problem, but because of where we’ve come from, shame, guilt, those things stop us from talking about the real truth about how far and how deep this is."

Committee member Lucy Muringo Gichuhi said those kinds of abuses led to tragedy in Adelaide’s African community.

"We’ve had three suicides in the community [of close relatives] so that is when [we had the idea of] we need to start watching out for women especially and young girls before they slip into depression."

In 12 months My Sister’s Keeper has come a long way and has just appointed its first patron, South Australia’s multicultural Affairs minister Zoe Bettison.

"We all have the voice in our head that says sometimes, 'Gee I didn’t get that right'", Ms Bettison said. "When you get some criticism and you just crumble into a ball. What we all have to do it build that well-being and resilience within us."

But finding that inner strength can be hard when you’re in a new country and hardly know anyone.

"We need to start watching out for women especially and young girls before they slip into depression."

Ms Tanui told SBS the group decided to start by offering support to international students.

"They are not permanent residents, they are not citizens so they fall through the gaps because there are no services really for them. So most of them here are international students that have come – they are isolated from family, they don’t have family in Australia. Depression sets in but they have nowhere to go."

Now, they do have somewhere to go. 

The network holds regular gatherings where women can have a cup of tea and share their stories.

Ms Gichuhi said it means the sisterhood can keep an eye on each other and raise the alarm if someone seems not to be coping.

"If somebody is seemingly struggling somewhere, one of us will say the word to members here and say, 'So and so is struggling, or so and so hasn’t been seen in class'. We need someone to check them out."

The network’s 12 committee members are trained in medicine, migration, social work and more - professional skills they offer to survivors as a free service to get lives on track.

My Sister’s Keeper has been so successful, the network is now supporting migrants from Britain, South America and Asia.

In an effort to meet the growing demand, committee member Ms Gichuhi said My Sister’s keeper is hoping to secure funding so it to help more women from all walks of life.

"At this moment there is no formal system - it is just a community based word of mouth kind of thing. So we are trying to see if we can set up an office, get a structure where actually we can even receive phone calls, people can leave messages, so we can reach to the wider community."

* Readers seeking support can contact the Sexual Assault & Domestic Violence National Help Line​ on 1800 737 732 or Lifeline on 13 11 14. 

@KarenAshford

 

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