Program helping refugees rebuild lives in Australia

46-year-old Nirmala Rai is happy to call Australia home.

Working as a support worker and living in Launceston, it is a very different story from her past life. She had spent 27 years living in a Nepal refugee camp after fleeing Bhutan as a young girl with her family, “I was very small that time. I grew up in a small village and then I don’t know what happened. Due to some circumstances, we had to come to Nepal.”

Married at 17, Nirmala was forced to grow up quickly as she gave birth to three children, “It was so much struggle, not good education, not good health system and there was not much opportunities for us.”

She arrived in Australia in 2017 with two of her three children in search of a better life. When they arrived in Tasmania they didn’t speak English or have any connections, “It was so challenging, life for me before coming to Australia. It was like stress, we didn’t know where we’re going, what to do, how to speak and what will happen there, or what life would look like as a single mum with two kids.”

She had the overwhelming task of rebuilding her life, but fortunately, there were people willing to help. Settlement Engagement and Transition Support (SETs) Program, delivered by IntoWork Australia through Migrant Resource Centre North (MRC), helps migrants settle in Launceston North. Using local expertise in settlement services, local charity and support groups and combining the strength of the IntoWork Group, the SETs program provides individualised and specialised support to vulnerable migrants in their first five years in Australia.

The program is delivered by experienced practitioners in the humanitarian space and has a focus on social participation, economic well-being, independence, personal well-being, community connectedness and provides employment Pathways. On average, MRC North supports 400 migrants in Launceston each year.

In the program, Nirmala learnt English, and was placed in an Aged Care and Disability Course through MRC North which led to a full-time job as a support worker at Community Care Tasmania. In 2020, she bought her own home, “After arriving here, we got lots and lots of amazing support from the program. We got help in every way, and they made us independent. I thought it’s better to be independent so we asked for help and then we can do it ourselves but we really needed the support and help.”

SETs Practice Leader Senka Alderson has worked in the program for the past 14 years, “I absolutely love the program. The progression you see from people when they first arrive with their English, to after they’ve been in the program – sometimes they’re not even using interpreters. It’s lovely to see people settling in and making a new life for themselves.”

Nirmala said her life has changed for the better since living in Australia, “I have my mum and dad, sisters and my eldest brother, younger brother and his family here now. I have never thought these things would happen. There is lots of opportunities for everyone in Australia. If we have any goals, we can achieve here in Australia, because we get lots of help from Australian people but that is if we go and seek help, there is always a helping hand everywhere. There is still a lot I want to do here.”

Nirmala now helps a lot of other migrants arriving in Australia, “I encourage them to go to SETs if they need help. Some people, they don’t know where to go so I help them to get there and they get help as well. I’m very much grateful for the program and I thank MRC North who gave us the opportunity to settle here comfortably.”

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