In her role at CatholicCare Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains, Rafa works with families and individuals to overcome a myriad of obstacles. On any given day, she could be advocating for a client to obtain financial assistance, running a family relationship support group or organising after-school tutoring. For Rafa, her role is about embracing people of all backgrounds and supporting them through sometimes difficult and dark times. She knows there isn’t a quick fix. But dedication and commitment, she says, can bring life-changing outcomes for people in need.
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“I love human beings; I’m dedicated to serving the community. Our clients need us when they’re most vulnerable. They know we work with everyone and we don’t judge people.”
As a refugee who arrived in Sydney from Sudan, Rafa and her partner know exactly how it feels to need sanctuary.
Escaping to safety
Rafa and her partner fled the bloodshed of the Second Sudanese Civil War when she was pregnant with her son in 2004. The war, which went from 1983 to 2005, claimed approximately 1.5-2 million lives due to starvation and drought. After escaping to Egypt, the couple applied for asylum in Australia.
“Coming to a new country is always difficult – the language, the culture… But at the end of the day, I found Australia to be a good country. I knew my children would have a much better education; a better life. It was very difficult, but after some years, we managed to settle.”
Arriving in Australia, Rafa enrolled in Nirimba TAFE to study community services; a natural step, as she had worked in human services in Sudan.
“Back home in Khartoum, I worked with the community as a public health educator in the displacement camps. Many people were dying from diseases contracted due to poor sanitation. I taught life skills through song and dance, helping people learn about hygiene. By the end of the program, 80% of the community was using correct hygiene practices.”
Joining CatholicCare: Power through persistence
After graduating from TAFE in 2008, Rafa joined our CatholicCare and began educating other refugees about life in Australia and connecting them to our services. In 2009, she joined our Family Support program. Looking back on her time at CatholicCare so far, Rafa says she’s grateful to have the opportunity to help people from all walks of life. And it’s easy to see she’s got a knack for it. Rafa shares the story of how she helped a woman, for who English was a second language, claim support she was entitled to, and so desperately needed.
“A woman suffering domestic violence came to me for help. She was struggling to communicate with staff at an office for people seeking financial assistance. She had visited every day for weeks to ask why money hadn’t gone into her account, even though they had said she should have received it. When I arrived at the office with her, someone asked, ‘How do you communicate with this lady?’ I said, ‘You sit with your client, you talk with them slowly, and listen to what they are saying. Only this way can you understand their needs. You learn their story and go from there.’”
With patience and quiet passion, Rafa discovered that her client needed to provide financial documentation for her application to be approved. After showing her client how to add her payslip to her file, the client soon began receiving payments.
“They back-dated the payments. I was very disappointed in how this woman had been treated. You can’t treat people like that just because of a language barrier. That’s wrong. We must always focus on getting to the bottom of any problem – no matter the barriers. It’s not easy for the client, but nothing will be too hard if we persist.”
In another memory Rafa shares with us, a Sudanese woman’s financial assistance application had been rejected because the office believed she was a property owner. With nowhere else to turn, she’d been collecting cans on the road for money.
“I told the lady at the office about the housing situation in South Sudan. Anyone can settle in a displacement camp and the government will give you a small plot of land. My client had built a five-bedroom house on the plot, with local materials, for her family of ten. But because there was no paperwork, her property had been taken by the government. The lady at the office said, ‘Are you sure?’ I said, ‘Yes, because the same thing happened to me.’ When we left, my client hugged me and cried. Later, she called to tell me she received her first payment. ‘I can buy food for my children!’ she said.”
Rafa’s commitment and perseverance clearly make her an incredible Support Worker – someone her colleagues say they are privileged to work alongside every day. We ask her to share some thoughts with anyone aspiring to join CatholicCare:
“I learn a lot here – from my colleagues, the communities and the wider sector. I learn so much because of how we bring love, lift others up, and work as a team. This organisation is welcoming. We encourage collaboration, respect and honesty. We are accountable to do the right thing; to respect one another and to commit to others. It’s about love.”
Refugee Week runs in Australia from Sunday 20 June to Saturday 26 June.
This article highlights a story from the “Diocesan Journey… Walking with Refugees and People Seeking Protection”. Learn more about this initiative and follow our 14-week campaign from Refugee Week to World Day of Migrants and Refugees.