A Hunter charity has helped five refugees call Newcastle home.
Zara’s House is a place of welcome for female immigrants and their children, providing programs to support their integration into Australian society.
The Jesmond-based organisation assists displaced people like Zeinab Sido, Sanaa Amin, Rahaf Al Tabbaa, Aicha Al Hamad and Mnwar Alghazzani with learning English, setting up micro-businesses, and literacy in their mother languages.
One of the women, Ms Amin, said many of them shared a common, and tragic, story before they arrived on Australian shores.
“You can hear all of our [stories] – we fled the war,” she explained.
“We fled, we escaped for safety. [We came to Australia] to build a future for our kids, to start a new life here.”
The Zara’s House volunteers join about 90 female refugees in a group on WhatsApp, where they post a nightly Australia-based, multiple-choice question for the women to answer.
Within the programs, they learn about Australian customs and traditions, as well as the legal system and laws of Australia.
Zeinab Sido, who came to Australia in 2016, works alongside her husband, Darwich, at their Sido Tailor shop in Jesmond.
She added the programs at Zara’s House helps female refugees “[to] think about something for yourself, to do something with your life”.
“Zara’s House has encouraged us to go outside our homes, [as] we were scared to go out,” she said.
“It has started with our confidence, to [be able to] go into the community and have a network of other ladies, and all the ladies feel comfortable together and be a network of good friends [for each other]”.
One of the biggest challenges the five women faced was the language barrier, which they believed was “very difficult” for them to learn.
When the refugees came to Australia, they were allocated a caseworker and Arabic interpreters from refugee support organisations like Newcastle Support Services, which accompanied refugees to doctor’s appointments, dentist visits, and shopping outings that would be difficult without language help.
Due to the ethnic diversity of countries like Syria, many of them already speak multiple languages, as they may have Armenian, Turkish or Kurdish backgrounds.
However, learning English will help the women write the story of their personal journeys for their future grandchildren.
Ms Sido, for example, already speaks three languages, which provided her with an extra challenge.
She explained that the Zara’s House programs aided her in becoming part of the Novocastrian community.
“The citizenship course gave me a push to go outside and meet Australians,” she said.
“They [Australians] are really nice and kind, when I make mistakes, [when] I speak English, they don’t laugh at us, they help us, and this was good for us.”
When asked what their favourite part about life in Newcastle was, the five women enthusiastically responded with answers like, “the beach”, “the lovely parks”, and “the beautiful malls”, and loved that Novocastrians smiled when they looked at them.
Zara’s House vice-president Sandra Calland explained that another challenge for female refugees was “childcare”, which had influenced its dedicated facility for children.
“These ladies have got nowhere to leave their children – when they do anything, they’ve got to bring their children with them,” she said.
“They wouldn’t be able to do what they do if there wasn’t some facility to support them with their little ones because their little ones have to be safe.”
Similarly, Zara’s House patron Sister Diana Santleben said the women had formed a bond in the absence of their own extended families.
“These women don’t have too many sisters here, they don’t have grandmothers here, they don’t have aunties here, so they have to grow a grandmother [the Zara’s House volunteers], or become sisters to each other,” she said.
Ms Sido and Ms Al Hamad will be the first two in the class to undertake the Australian citizenship test next month.