James Sabbagh did his student work placement with Advance Diversity Services (ADS) from July 2021 to January 2022. Magdaline Shenton-Kaleido Team Leader, Emerging Communities, Settlement and Community Services for ADS said James gave stellar support to ADS’s programs in 2021 and made a big difference. James started in his new role at Sutherland hospital in early February.

What drew you to volunteer and/or to do your student placement with ADS?

I was very happy and excited to commence my placement with ADS. I was drawn to the idea of working with a service that was so connected to the local community. So much of ADS’s work is informed by the community for the community, which is amazing to see, especially when working with a culturally diverse population. ADS’s responsiveness and care for the needs of their service users is inspiring.

What are you studying and where? And how has your personal history and/or your cultural background informed your work with ADS?

I studied a Bachelor of Social Work at the University of Wollongong. I come from a mixed cultural background, my mum Irish and my dad Maltese/Lebanese. Growing up with a culturally and linguistically diverse family was a great asset when working at ADS. I think because of my family background I was able to be more culturally conscious and receptive when working within a culturally diverse team and with culturally diverse service users. However, due to being born and raised in Australia, throughout my placement I resumed the role of a learner, committing myself to learning and hearing from others about their cultural background and identity.

What ADS programs have you assisted with and how have you been encouraged to apply your studies and/or expand your skills in your role?

During my placement at ADS I was involved in and supported the evaluation and update of the Multicultural LGBTIQA+ Support Directory, worked with the Specialised and Intensive Services (SIS) team, supported the Emergency Relief program and helped to organise online Migrant Information Day sessions. The staff at ADS were extremely supportive and continually encouraged me to participate in as many programs and roles as I could. Working in the evaluation, community development and direct client work spaces while at ADS enabled me to utilise a broad array of social work skills. I really enjoyed working with the SIS team and with clients of the SIS program, where I utilised skills of communication, advocacy, empowerment, cultural consciousness and team work. 

What has been the most challenging work you have done with ADS during your time as a volunteer / student?

The most challenging aspect of my work at ADS has definitely been the advocacy work that is often required to ensure beneficial and meaningful service provision. When I say advocacy, I’m referring to the countless phone calls the SIS team makes, trying to overcome hurdles so that other services and resources are accessible to the SIS clients. It can be very frustrating navigating everyday services that constantly seem to inhibit the settlement journey for migrants and refugees.

What strengths have you brought to your placement?

I believe that my strengths in communication, teamwork and reflexive practice were essential to my placement at ADS. Working well in teams and being a confident and adaptive communicator meant that I could successfully work across multiple teams at ADS. I believe that these strengths enabled me to be a useful team member that put forward practical ideas and strategies to enhance service provision. Being a reflexive worker meant that I was always reflecting on my practice and trying to identify ways that I could better support SIS clients and develop resources for ADS.

What has been your proudest moment, greatest achievement, deepest connection in your time at ADS?

It is not a specific moment, but rather all the times a client and I have celebrated small wins. These are the moments when an Opal card has been successfully applied for, a MyGov account is set up or financial support is received. These are all seemingly small achievements but often come after many hurdles and complications. Sharing moments of joy and relief at minor successes with SIS clients has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my work at ADS.

‘Be You With Us’ is ADS’s tagline, and it reflects the organisation’s commitment to welcoming and accepting everyone of all ages, gender, culture, sexuality, and religious beliefs. How have you been encouraged to ‘Be You With Us’ during your time with ADS?

Reflecting back on my placement and time volunteering, the tagline ‘Be You With Us’ perfectly encapsulates the environment at ADS. The staff were all so welcoming of me and took a genuine interest in me and my studies. I felt comfortable to speak with others about my cultural background and family, but similarly enjoyed hearing about the identities of other team members. While working on the Multicultural LGBTIQA+ Support Directory it was so amazing to see that the ADS commitment to diverse populations was not superficial in any sense, it was actually ingrained in the work culture.

What more should the Australian Government be doing to welcome migrants and refugees and to ensure they find the support they need to adjust quickly and well to life in Australia?

I think the Australian Government, among many other things, should make a commitment to reunite the families of migrants and refugees. Supporting migrants and refugees to have other family members join them in Australia would make a huge difference to their overall wellbeing and would help to create larger support networks, making migrants and refugees feel more settled in their new home.

What is your ultimate goal and how has the work you’ve done with ADS equipped you for what you would like to do next?

I do not have an ultimate goal as far as position or practice area, but I am committed to a continual journey of learning and professional development. I see it as inevitable that in the near future I will return to work in the settlement space. This placement has moulded my understanding of what proper community development work looks like. I hope that in my future career I can be in a position that elevates community members’ voices to rally for much-needed change. I have learnt a lot in this placement about how hard it is for migrants and refugees to settle in a new country and I hope that I can, in the future, assist to make that process easier.

Please finish this sentence: I love ADS because …

I love ADS because of their tireless and enthusiastic support for all community members no matter their age, gender, culture, sexuality, and religious beliefs.

James Sabbagh said, ‘My placement with ADS moulded my understanding of what proper community development work looks like.’