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Sharing meals and the stories of refugees

17 June 2019 at 8:14 pm
Maggie Coggan
When Iraqi refugee Salwan Shaooka was forced to flee Iraq and the approaching threat of ISIS to find a better life in Australia, settling in and finding a job wasn’t easy.

Maggie Coggan | 17 June 2019 at 8:14 pm


Sharing meals and the stories of refugees
17 June 2019 at 8:14 pm

When Iraqi refugee Salwan Shaooka was forced to flee Iraq and the approaching threat of ISIS to find a better life in Australia, settling in and finding a job wasn’t easy.

In Iraq, Shaooka lived with his family in a small town near Mosul. But when they heard ISIS were coming, they fled as soon as they could.

“We left in two cars, and my father brought along lots of food from his fruit shop for us, but we hadn’t planned to leave Iraq, so we had to apply for passports,” Shaooka said.

He said their living conditions during the wait were tough.   

“We initially lived in two classrooms of a school while the students were on holidays, but when classes were starting again, we had to move on to another town,” he said.

After waiting months for their passports to be approved, and then two years in Lebanon, they made their way to Australia.

But when looking for work he was faced with severe language barriers, struggling to secure a job or even complete applications for work, until he discovered social enterprise The Bread & Butter Project.

The Sydney bakery reinvests all profits into providing baking traineeships, employment opportunities and English tuition for recently arrived refugees and asylum seekers like Shaooka.

Since launching in 2013, all 40 graduates have also gone on to find secure employment after graduating from the program.  

Philip Hoban, The Bread & Butter Project’s general manager said that Shaooka’s story was common among the organisation’s trainees.

“A lot of our trainees and graduates come from heart-breaking situations, from all corners of the world – whether it be countries such as Iraq, Syria and Lebanon or places closer to home such as Myanmar and Thailand,” Hoban said.

But he said their willingness to learn a new skill and language to make a life in their new home was something that needed to be highlighted during this year’s Refugee Week, which runs from 16 to 22 June.  

“Once they join the Bread & Butter program, our trainees quickly find their feet and form strong bonds with the other bakers – we believe this gives them a strong sense of identity and purpose in their adopted country,” he said.

“What shines through in every single trainee we take on is their spirit and willingness to embrace their new lives in Australia.”

Refugee Week runs annually, and aims to celebrate the contributions they make to Australian society through talks, food nights, and other events across the country.

Cindy Carpenter, The Bread & Butter Project chair, told Pro Bono News that during Refugee Week, she hoped the wider public were able to see the benefits of providing an extra leg up to refugees looking for work.

“We can make a very positive difference to the lives of refugees with a little support to help them get a foothold in the Australian job market,” Carpenter said.

“They’re hard working, they’re very keen to get employment and maybe even run their own business one day so they can give back to Australia.”  

Shaooka is one of those people. He graduated from the project late last year, and is now employed by the bakery on a permanent basis.

Carpenter added that providing these job opportunities had an intergenerational impact.    

“One of our trainees spent 10 years in refugee camps on the Myanmar border, and when she came to Australia she was five years out of work, and didn’t have a lot of English,” she said.

“But she’s been with us for five years, and her kids have all gone through university and are now employed, so it’s also about that intergenerational transfer impact as much as it is about the lives of the trainees.”

This year’s Refugee Week theme is “share a meal, share a story”. The Bread & Butter Project said they will celebrate the week by sharing the food and the experiences of the people behind the enterprise.  

Other events happening around the country can be found here.

Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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