By CASEY NEILL
“I CALL Sri Samy the angel of Friends of Refugees, not without justification.”
Trevor Grant, the Springvale-based group’s spokesman, said he’d met very few people in his lifetime so committed and determined to help others in need.
Sri Samy’s dedication and efforts throughout Greater Dandenong in 2013 have earned her the Dandenong Journal Person of the Year title.
“So often she has put aside her own needs to answer a call from a refugee,” Mr Grant said.
“Whether it be a family sleeping on bare boards and shivering through a Melbourne winter, a pregnant mother with worries about her health, a refugee house in need of a lawn mower.
“You name it, she’ll find a solution.”
Friends of Refugees, launched in June, offers new arrivals assistance and advocates on their behalf.
Ms Samy drives the group’s van around the suburbs to pick up and deliver aid, and cooks for up to 30 people each Monday at a weekly get-together she runs.
“She is there, doing something positive to help some of the most vulnerable people in our society,” Mr Grant said.
Ms Samy can offer empathy as well as an ear. She arrived in Australia from India after an arranged marriage.
“I felt excitement at my new life but it was also tinged with loss, having left behind all my friends and family,” she said.
“Feelings of isolation and loneliness form a common theme in the stories of most new migrants.”
The trained architect found work in the field within a few weeks, but five years later, within a matter of months she and her husband lost their first-born son at birth and their fathers.
“The next year the world became a better place for us when our only – and beautiful – daughter, Krisha Samy, was born,” Ms Samy said.
“Health issues forced me to take another turn in life.
“Unable to focus on work because of the time taken caring for my daughter, I made a decision to focus on the family.”
She became involved in community work while starting her home-based business.
“I came to the realisation that we have to live our life to the fullest and do our best to add value to other people’s lives,” she said.
Ms Samy volunteers at Dandenong Community Aid Bureau and at the Victorian Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Coalition.
“I teach computer skills, English to refugees and facilitate leadership courses for women,” she said.
“I work with the Tamil Refugee Council and Friends of Refugees, providing material aid and raising awareness about the plight of refugees and the reason they are here -persecution in their homeland.”
In 2013, she’s appeared in the Journal pages for her part in Tamil Refugee Council rallies and instigating English lessons at Dandenong Neighbourhood House for those on waiting lists for official classes.
In September the Journal covered Ms Samy’s devastation when thieves stole bikes destined for refugees from her front yard, then her elation in October at a generous donation -12 children’s bikes, two adult bikes and toys.
“It sounds a lot to take on, and at times it can be hard work,” Ms Samy said of her volunteer work.
“But it is also fulfilling to be able to give people a helping hand and help them get over those familiar feelings of isolation and helplessness.
“My experience in life and work in community has made me understand the common phrase ’a community is only as strong as its weakest link’.”