MercyCare’s New Norcia partnership provides opportunities for refugees

07 Jul 2022

By Contributor

Three men standing together by an olive tree
Ilshad and Yohannes, pictured with local priest Father David (centre), have been employed to help harvest olives from the historic olive groves in New Norcia. Photo: Supplied.

A partnership between MercyCare and the New Norcia Benedictine Community has provided promising employment opportunities to help build skills, confidence and career prospects for seven people from refugees and asylum seeker backgrounds who have come to Australia in search of a better life.

The partnership was established in 2021, with MercyCare’s Multicultural Services team helping to facilitate ongoing and seasonal paid work for refugee and asylum seekers in New Norcia.

Among them are Yohannes from Eritrea, Mohammad from Afghanistan and Ilshad from Kazakhstan, who in the past few weeks have been hard at work harvesting olives at New Norcia’s historic groves, which has seen a bumper season this year with more than 130-litres of olive oil pressed in the first week of harvest.

Others have been offered ongoing paid work which involves providing behind-the-counter support, such as cooking, cleaning and packing and sorting of food products, in the local bakery and roadhouse.

In addition to their paid work, the refugees and asylum seekers have also been provided with affordable accommodation so that they are able to live close by.

Ilshad with his wife Illnuf. Photo: Supplied.

MercyCare’s Employment Pathways help refugees and asylum seekers to identify their skills and interests and match them to available work opportunities. These services connect participants with work opportunities, including such partnerships with New Norcia.

MercyCare Employment Liaison Officer Jacqui Whelan said the partnership with New Norcia not only provided her clients with employment but was also a great opportunity for them to feel part of a tight-knit community.

“The people of New Norcia have really embraced the refugees and asylum seekers and have made them feel like they belong to the community,” Jacqui said.

“The benefits of this opportunity are that it not only helps the client build confidence, skills and engage in paid work, but it also helps them to build their local experience as they search for other opportunities either in the metro or potentially other regional areas”.

“It’s something new to them but it also helps them experience local and workplace culture.”

Ilshad and Yohannes harvesting olives from the historic olive groves in New Norcia. Photo: Supplied.

MercyCare caseworker Afsoun Mohammadkhani, who supports clients from migrant and refugee backgrounds through the Step by Step Settlement Service, said clients like Yohannes, Mohammad and Ilshad were very eager to get into the workforce, whether it was drawing from their current skills or building their skillset.

“Our clients come from countries like Afghanistan, Congo, and Eritrea and they have been very eager and enthusiastic to engage in work opportunities since coming to Australia and be valuable members of the Western Australian community,” Afsoun said.

“I’ve also admired how they support and care for each other. They all come from different cultures, but they have found a way to connect with one another and become friends.”

In a time where the COVID pandemic has fuelled a shortage in workers in regional towns across Australia, the extra help provided by the refugees and asylum seekers has been welcomed by the New Norcia community.

“With skilled well-disposed personnel from all corners of the world being employed across the New Norcia site – from the bakery, to the roadhouse, to the olive grove – opportunities are created, and needs are fulfilled,” New Norcia Monastery’s Father John Herbert said.

Jacqui and Afsoun are open to building more partnerships with business owners around Perth and in regional WA, with many refugee, asylum seeker and migrant individuals eager to take up employment opportunities to gain experience and expand their skillsets.

This year’s theme for Refugee Week (June 19-25) is ‘healing’, which highlights the importance of human connection and encourages Australians to draw on shared hardship with refugees and asylum seekers to heal wounds, learn from one another and move forward.

Afsoun has seen the powerful effects of sharing lived experience, having engaged with many refugee and asylum seekers who have come from war-torn countries or have been faced with significant personal trauma before coming to Australia.

“I see people who have experiences of pain and trauma from their home country and it is very hard for them to speak about it,” Afsoun said.

“So for them to be able to share their pain and open up about their experiences it can be very healing for them.”