Volunteer Voices: Volunteers from Refugee Backgrounds

Among the 388 volunteers at SCARF are people who know exactly what it’s like to be on the other side. 

These volunteers began their SCARF journey as refugee community members, and are now volunteering to help others who may be facing challenges previously experienced by themselves.

SCARF’s volunteers from refugee backgrounds are in a unique position to support more recently arrived refugee entrants. Not only do they have first-hand knowledge of the refugee experience and what it’s like to resettle as a refugee entrant in the Illawarra, but often, they can speak multiple languages.

Such is the case for Yousef, who volunteers at SCARF’s drop-in Form Filling Support sessions. “I didn’t mind what I do at SCARF, it’s all helping,” said Yousef. “When I filled in my information I said that I can speak Arabic and English and they said they needed someone who can understand and speak both. I help explain and translate the forms for people….I help with Centrelink forms, housing, bills and things like that.”

Yousef was studying Philosophy in Syria when War broke out. His family and himself fled to Lebanon and applied for Humanitarian Visas. “After 8 months, they give us a Visa to come to Australia. We are so happy.”

Yousef didn’t speak much English in Syria, but has picked up the language quickly. “Maybe I’m good because I listen to a lot of English music. And I like movies.”

For Nademah, who’s originally from Iraq, volunteering at SCARF is familiar territory.“I like volunteering at SCARF, because it is similar to the work I did in Syria as a Social Worker where I was helping the refugees.”

“I am currently studying Community Services at Tafe. I want to do my Masters of Social Work, and then my Doctorate.”

For Obouko, her drive to volunteer for SCARF stems from a desire to support people who may be experiencing isolation.

“I volunteer with SCARF because i want to help people from non english speaking background feel at home. This is because as an humanitarian entrant, i realised that coming to new country can be very challenging. These challenges such as language barrier and cultural differences make us to feel excluded from our community.”

The challenges of resettlement, as well as a desire to bring people together, were the catalysts for Narges to become a volunteer at SCARF.

“I’ve received a lot of help from SCARF in tutoring programs, driving lessons and lots of other helps. I was feeling that I have to give this back, and help other people who were struggling like I was. I think the most important thing in all we do at SCARF is making friends, making people involved in our community. In our Youth Programs, we did that. We brought everyone together.”

For Azita, helping others was also her motivation to volunteer. “I received many help from SCARF volunteers especially during the first year of my arrival,” she said.

“The volunteers’ dedication, caring personality and empathy to help refugees impressed me the way that i was going to do the same for others”

It’s important that people from refugee backgrounds have a voice and platform within an organisation like SCARF. After all, it is the people who’ve been refugee entrants themselves that are the experts in refugee resettlement support.

SCARF’s culture of inclusivity and collaboration has allowed it to be guided by the unique experiences and expertise of people from all backgrounds, including refugee backgrounds. This has diversity injected a rich variety of skills and knowledge in to SCARF, which has ultimately benefited the communities we serve.

To encourage this further looking ahead, SCARF seeks to secure funding for bilingual community workers from new and emerging communities, who will become part of a core team of staff and will be key contributors in our growth and development.