It was a cold, wet morning in Canberra on Thursday but inside a converted 1920s homestead on the outskirts of the territory, the mood couldn’t have been warmer or brighter.
Refugee women from around the world welcomed the Hon. Alex Hawke MP to breakfast at Café Stepping Stone, at Strathnairn Arts, as part of Refugee Week celebrations hosted by Navitas English.
The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs met with café staff, many of whom are former Navitas English clients, and refugee women from Myanmar, South Sudan, Iran, Iraq, El Salvador and Honduras currently enrolled in the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) at Navitas English.
Café Stepping Stone, a social enterprise providing employment and training opportunities for migrant and refugee women, also hosts a work experience project that provides refugee women – including current Navitas English AMEP students – with a chance to practise their English language skills in a supportive work environment, and to gain valuable hospitality skills.
Minister Hawke thanked Navitas and Café Stepping Stone for supporting refugee women on their settlement journeys and, after taking a short barista lesson from a café employee, he listened to each of the women’s personal stories, and encouraged them to “keep studying, keep learning” for a better life.
“They have overcome so many challenges during their lives and Australia is enriched every day by these incredible women, and others like them, who now call Australia home,” Minister Hawke said.
“What Stepping Stone offers these women in terms of employment, training, work experience and social connection is fantastic. This cafe is a living, breathing example of how to support refugee women to improve their English, build employability skills and ultimately become more economically secure.”
Minister Hawke said English language skills were critical to helping refugees and migrants engage with their communities and achieve their goals.
”It is clear that Navitas, as a longstanding AMEP provider, is helping to transform the lives of these women and many others.
“When these women speak about Navitas, there is genuine affection and gratitude for the organisation, how their programs are delivered and the extra support and care that teachers and staff provide,” he said.
The event was also attended by Commonwealth Coordinator-General for Migrant Services Alison Larkins, Assistant Secretary Migrant English and Language Services Ali Mond, Navitas GS&E Executive General Manager Michael Cox and Navitas Head of Strategic Engagement & Government Relations Kadi Taylor.
Mr Cox said the breakfast was an inspiring event that celebrated the valuable contribution refugees make to society and the importance of community collaboration.
“At Navitas English our focus has always been on meeting the diverse needs of individuals by collaborating with the broader community to support people on their personal journeys,” he said.
“We are proud of our continued engagement with a range of stakeholders, such as Café Stepping Stone, which helps us achieve genuine settlement and employment outcomes for our clients, and contribute to an inclusive Australian workplace.”
“The AMEP, which Navitas English has been delivering for more than 20 years, provides critical language skills, but the wider opportunities of the program also provide refugees and migrants with the life skills and confidence they need to live their best lives.”
Navitas English has delivered the AMEP to more than 250,000 clients since 1998 in two contract regions across NSW and the ACT.
AMEP student Mi Layih Jonda is just one of more than 500 clients currently enrolled in the in the Canberra program.
The 29-year-old refugee from Myanmar said she was “very happy” to be in Australia, where she was combining studying English with work, and hoped to one day become a nurse.
“I have worked very hard as a cleaner and a labourer to buy a house with my husband,” she said.
“I fled Myanmar because of the difficult situation I had to suffer in my country. It wasn’t safe. I am so happy to be here and for the opportunities I have through Navitas English.”
Café Stepping Stone was founded in 2020 by Vanessa Brettell and Hannah Costello, and has hired and trained many women from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) backgrounds, many of whom are busy mothers.
Its commitment to supporting migrant and refugee women was inspired by the story of Vanessa’s own grandmother, who migrated to Australia from India in the 1960s.
“I know the challenges that she faced setting into life in a new country and we wanted to create a workplace where migrants and refugees feel safe and supported to practise their English and interpersonal skills, meet people in the community and share their culture,” Vanessa said.
Refugee Week runs from Sunday, June 20 to Saturday, June 26. This year’s theme is “Unity”, with organisers calling on all Australians to help build a more cohesive community and recover from the isolation endured in 2020 during COVID-19. The week also celebrates the positive contributions refugees make to Australian society.
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