Refugee mental health boosted by community programs


A community cooking and music program gives asylum seekers on bridging visas a new outlook on life.

When Babak arrived in Australia after fleeing Iran eight months ago, he had no family, no friends and little optimism.

He was on a bridging visa, waiting for a decision on his future.

"Even though I am now free, there are a lot of restrictions. I worry a lot," Babak says.

Two months ago, Babak joined Settlement Services International's (SSI) Community Kitchen music program, and he says his outlook on life improved immediately.

The Community Kitchen program is a monthly event, where recently arrived asylum seekers meet to cook together and play music.

Babak says the gatherings have offered him a chance to share his feelings.

"Music for me is not just about love and dance and happiness, it's a way of expressing myself. Talking about the difficulties and hardship as well," he says.

The program began after community workers saw their clients -- particularly those on bridging visas -- were experiencing severe anxiety.

Case Manager at SSI, Zac Faisi says the program was intended to act as a form of therapy.

"Music is something that they have control over and they're passionate about, so I try to help them in that sense. And it has a lot of positive outcomes," he says.

Many of the people who come through the Community Kitchen program have fled violent and often traumatic situations. It's hoped initiatives such as this will help people to share and learn from their common experiences.

"Music can wash away all of the suffering and struggle. It gives me comfort." 

Babak says the Community Kitchen has helped him to settle into his new life.

"These programs are helping me to meet people. They've helped me with more than just music, they've helped me to improve my English. I'm very grateful," he says.

Manager of Humanitarian Services at SSI, David Keegan, says they plan to further develop the program.

"Music is a great tool to cut across language and communication tools. Music helps to lift peoples' spirits, it helps people to feel positive and happy and for these clients they're often surrounded by despair and hopelessness and are unsure about their future and so music just provides a great way for them to have some time out from that."

Mr Keegan says the collaborative process he had several positive effects.

"Two or three people can come here and pick up an instrument and it seems they instantly have something in common and we're just finding that it's giving them something to look forward to, some hope, and it's helping them to have a bit more of a positive outlook."

For Babak, the benefit of the program is simple.

"Music can wash away all of the suffering and struggle. It gives me comfort."

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