A comprehensive wellbeing program for multicultural men run by Advance Diversity Services (ADS) has culminated in a stirring photographic exhibition, which is now on digital display in six Bayside Council libraries.
The exhibition features the portraits and settlement stories of 18 migrant/refugee men along with photo collages of their joint recreational activities.
Funded by Multicultural NSW (MNSW) and run by ADS Community Service Officer Rishi Acharya, the project supported recently arrived migrant and refugee men in South-Eastern Sydney to make friends and connections, have fun and navigate settlement in their new country, Australia.
The Multicultural NSW funding helped revive the ADS Men’s Wellbeing group Mr Acharya had founded many years before, but had become dormant during COVID-19. The 10 fortnightly sessions took place from February to August this year and incorporated workshops and weekend nature outings.
Bayside Council Mayor Dr Christina Curry said she was pleased to launch the ADS Multicultural Men’s Wellbeing ‘Settlement Stories’ Project at Rockdale Library on August 14 because it showed the strength of multicultural men and the significant role they play in contributing to family and connection in the Bayside community.
‘We’re a very multicultural community,’ Dr Curry said, ‘and we’re very proud of our community and the histories, traditions and cultures that you contribute to our area. I know it’s not easy. My parents migrated to Australia. No family. No friends. No English. And so, I understand the challenges – and that’s why the council working with amazing organisations like Advance Diversity Services is so important to us.’
Jit Gopali, one of the 18 men featured in the exhibition who also spoke at the launch, said he and his wife had migrated to Australia in 2017 from Nepal to be with their children who were permanent residents.
While being reunited with family had made him happy, he’d found the early years of adjustment to their new geography, culture, society, system and language isolating and difficult.
He’d been lucky to finally connect with ADS, he said, where he took part in English training and a driving course, which had increased his job prospects and scope for contact.
‘After joining the Multicultural Men’s Wellbeing Group, I also got the opportunity to learn about mainstream services like health, transport, childcare, legal and other facilities.’
Settlement and Community Services Manager for ADS, Magdaline Shenton-Kaleido, said she knew it was daunting to move to a new country, having to learn a different language and systems, ‘everything from scratch’. However, programs like the Men’s Wellbeing project helped to ensure newcomers have support to access services, combat the loneliness of moving to a new country, and make friends to integrate well in their new host country.
She said workshops offered during the project included an introduction to men’s health, stress management, parenting in a new country and financial literacy.
Fun activities the men enjoyed included a tour of PCYC Rockdale with taster sports like squash, table tennis and gym workouts; coastal walks; a bush walk on the two valley trail at Wolli Creek; an Indigenous walk in the Royal National Park; and a family picnic at Rockdale Park.
‘To recognise the men’s bravery, resilience and continuing stories in Australia, Rishi and I interviewed all the participants and engaged professional photographer Bebi Zekirovski to take their portraits.
‘Our media writer, Marjorie, then condensed their stories to showcase their settlement journeys.’
Mr Acharya narrated his own micro-story at the launch and then read the stories of the 17 other men.
‘My wife and I left Nepal due to civil war,’ he said. ‘In 2008, with limited English, it was difficult to get a job. But I studied hard and have now enjoyed working at ADS with newly arrived communities for more than 10 years.’
All stories read at the launch were welcomed warmly by the audience and some, like Janak Prasad Dalal’s, elicited surprise: ‘I’m from a very mountainous part of Nepal, which meant I was 14 before I first saw electricity! I studied and lived in the US before coming to Australia in 2014. It’s very peaceful here especially after New York City where people carry guns.’
Sam Bassiouny’s story also evoked nods of recognition: ‘My wife dreamt of coming to Australia and we were looking for a country based on equality. It was hard: I’d held a big position in Egypt and had to start from the beginning. But I’ve found the land where I want to live the rest of my life!’
Ms Shenton-Kaleido thanked everyone who had helped to make the project a success, including: MNSW the funding body; Rishi Acharya project coordinator and Prem Tamang ADS student placement; Thanh Nguyen grant writer; Rockdale PCYC for the taster sport sessions; South Eastern Sydney Local Health District and Dr Prabin Pathak for the men’s health and wellbeing sessions; Tim Pullen Wolli Creek Preservation Society bush guide; Bebi Zekirovski photographer; Marjorie Lewis-Jones media writer for the stories; Bayside Council for launching and running the exhibition in six libraries; and ‘all the brave participants who migrated to a new life’.
The portraits and stories of new beginnings will be projected in six libraries in Bayside, including Rockdale Library, Arncliffe, Bexley North, Eastgardens, San Souci and Mascot libraries, as well as the George Hanna Memorial Museum until August 31.
‘We hope this exhibition and these snapshots help to increase community awareness of the experiences, needs and services available for migrants and refugee men,’ Ms Shenton-Kaleido said.
‘So please visit your local library and read these amazing settlement stories of your local community.’
The Men’s Wellbeing Group will continue to meet on the first Wednesday of every month at the ADS office in Hurstville. To get involved contact Rishi Acharya on 9597 5455 or email email@example.com