By Casey Neill
A little empowerment can go a long way when it comes to refugees.
Pastor Hilda Samuel from Jesuran Welfare Services started reaching out to new arrivals in Endeavour Hills in September 2012.
“Then I heard the cry in Dandenong of almost 5000 refugees who were depressed and in drug and alcohol abuse.
“I thought it was best that I move into Dandenong and serve those people.
“I know what it is to come into a new country.
“I came with some money, with family and money, and speaking English.
“Imagine these refugees with no money, no English, no one to give them a hand.”
She leased “the most broken down commercial property at the time, down Herbert Street”.
“I almost cried when I saw it,” she said.
“The loving hands of refugees renovated the whole building into a work of art.”
But enduring five robberies eventually forced the group to leave.
“During one robbery my associate and I were actually in the kitchen when the robber was in my office,” Pastor Hilda said.
“The fifth robbery was really demoralising. They literally stripped the whole centre.
“The alarm was ripped off and doused with water. The back door was hacked.
“I really didn’t want to stay there anymore.”
Settlement service AMES was looking for a small charity to work with, and Pastor Hilda and her crew soon moved into a few spaces its Noble Park site, including the cafe.
They charge $3 per meal.
“The cafe is just full. It’s a haven for 50 to 60 refugees a day,” she said.
On Monday 5 June, the group launched a book filled with recipes served up in the cafe.
“Last year in March we had about 40 people to a sit-down lunch at Dandenong and we got six Sri Lankan women to cook about 60 dishes,” she said.
“We collected all their authentic recipes.
“I’m now exploring a similar project for the Burmese group.
“We hope to do catering, bead making, sewing training so that they can use those skills to have income.
“Then we will also teach them in the process English and computer classes.
“When I’ve finished the Burmese I’ll move onto another group.
“Everyone needs a helping hand.”
The book’s cover recipe is a soup called kool.
“As a little girl, I observed my uncle used to get the village together and cook the soup in a large pot,” she said.
“While the soup was being cooked, they would engage themselves in community matters.
“Over a meal, I find refugees communicating with one another, befriending one another.
“The meal is not the meal itself, it’s a tool for communication and relationships.”
Pastor Hilda is selling the book for $15 a copy, and is also welcoming donations of packaged food for people to take home.
“My dream is eventually to start a little supermarket, let them take two bags for $5 or something like that,” she said.
Visit Jesuran Welfare Services at AMES in Noble Park or visit www.jesuranwellness.com.au.