Toowoomba's refugee support service celebrates 12 years
THE fact that TRAMS, the Toowoomba Refugee and Migrant Support service, was born 12 years ago from community spirit and drive, is a large part of its success.
And volunteer help from people like retirees with a little time on their hands is what keeps it strong.
"It was and still is a volunteer community response to help the people resettling here, and that makes it more of a home and family support environment rather than just a service," TRAMS settlement co-ordinator Hannah Belesky said.
Her own involvement grew from friendship and interaction with a large number of refugee families in her neighbourhood. She began volunteering at TRAMS before taking up her current position.
Under the umbrella of CatholicCare Social Services (formerly Centacare) TRAMS aims to help refugees and migrants learn English and become confident, self-reliant participants in the community.
"There are a great number of benefits," Mrs Belesky said. "Learning the language gives people independence. It allows them to make friends, feel like they belong and can engage in their new community. They don't want to be cut off and separated from it."
The service is accessed by over 154 people each month, with 100 volunteers each week participating in different aspects of support.
TRAMS currently needs assistants in the popular English classes, generally led by retired teachers, and help to look after children while mums attend classes.
There's also homework clubs offered at the centre, at a local school and in-home for families with a number of children.
"Some of our volunteers love that, because it really builds an ongoing relationship with the family," Mrs Belesky said.
But she said it's very much a case of matching the right volunteer with the range of jobs available.
"Volunteers are giving up their time, so we want to make sure they are doing something they get something out of as well, so they want to come back, whether it's just an ad hoc job or something ongoing," Mrs Belesky said.
A new mother and child playgroup in which English is the focus has started, allowing parent and child to learn the new language together in a supportive social gathering. It is hoped that by starting school with English, kids will be more confident to join in school, sport and other activities and, equally importantly, mothers will feel less isolated.
Mrs Belesky said the benefits were ongoing, not just for this generation, but the next who would call Toowoomba home.
Toowoomba Council has declared the city a "refugee welcome zone," but that is just making official the spirit which has long existed here, with about 2000 South Sudanese settled for some time. Congolese refugees and others from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Libya, Sudan and soon Syria have joined them, along with migrants from the Phillipines, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and beyond - all bringing something special to this diverse community.
If you can lend a hand, contact volunteer co-ordinator Rachel Smith to discuss training and placement on 07 4632 9285.