12 Nov 2015
Former refugee Apande Gong from war-torn South Sudan is the public face of a new Queensland campaign to find 500 work-experience places for the 3500 Syrian refugees soon to arrive in Brisbane.
Ms Gong – now a youth support worker with the Youth Housing Project – is a success story of a similar work experience program almost a decade ago. She now gives young Queenslanders a new home, after Queensland gave her a new home.
She fled South Sudan as a 19-year-old in 1998 and began her new life in Australia in Coffs Harbour before eventually finding her way to Brisbane and ultimately Padua College in 2006.
“I grew up during the war and eventually had to come out here because it got so bad,” Ms Gong said.
Today the mother of five children, all at school, Ms Gong told journalists that work experience helped her find her feet in her new home. It gave her an opportunity.
“I started here at Padua College years ago and I came back to tell my story of success,” Ms Gong said.
“When I came here I was a refugee, hungry for a new beginning,” she said.
“But where do you begin, when you are ready to begin, but you don’t know where to go?”
Padua College had fledgling links to offer refugees the chance to work with young students, giving them to opportunity to see the world outside the classroom. And then Ms Gong shone.
She began working in the school laboratories and then went on to work with kids with learning difficulties.
“That is where it all started for me, because the young people wanted to know all about where I came from,” she said.
“This gave me the chance to go on. I started with youth and I am now a support worker in a senior position, where I am helping Australian young people into independent long-term housing.”
Ms Gong said work experience works because it gives people an opportunity.
“This program works because it is an opportunity,” she said.
“What we need is that opportunity. Anybody who comes to a new society – indeed from a war-torn country – all we need is a society that welcomes us with a job.
“Nothing is more welcoming than someone who gives you a tool to do it for yourself.”
Ms Gong studied at Bracken Ridge TAFE where she received a Diploma in Community Service and more recently a Bachelor Degree in Social Science.
Today she reminded people thinking of taking up the opportunity to offer refugees 12-weeks work experience of the decision’s power.
“This is what this program does. It gives you tools to go out and do it for yourself to regain the dignity that you lose when you are refugee.”
She said the scheme gave refugees the tool to create a new home.
“When you are a refugee, you are homeless and that is what Australia gives us, a new home.”
“This program made Australia a new home for me.”
As she walked back throughout Padua College towards the library where she one worked, she paused and reflected on what her life would have been like if she had stayed in South Sudan.
She paused before heading through the library door.
“Not good. Not good.”
The work experience program is called Work and Welcome 500 and includes backing from the Queensland Government, the Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland and Queensland’s Council of Unions.
It is co-ordinated by Multicultural Queensland, part of Multicultural Development Australia.
The program will have the organisations provide the funding to fund 500, 12-week work experience programs for the 3500 Syrian refugees to arrive in Queensland.
It was launched on Wednesday by representatives from all organisations, with Minister for Multicultural Affairs Shannon Fentiman – patron of the work experience program – promising her portfolio would provide the first places.
“We will immediately give two new refugees some valuable work experience,” Ms Fentiman said.
Peter Forday, the deputy chairman of MDA acknowledged finding 500 places would be hard work.
“I know it is an ambitious goal, but is a goal that we believe that can be easily achieved with the goodwill of Queenslanders.”
For details in taking part in offering work experience or paying for work experience to a Syrian refugee please visit:https://mdaltd.org.au/work-and-welcome/