After arriving in Australia, Esther* found herself struggling with finances and food insecurity. A friend of hers suggested she contact the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) and gave her a phone number to call. A short time later, Esther received a phone call from the very number her friend had given her: it was JRS inviting her to the Arrupe Community Centre in Parramatta, a suburb of Sydney. New to the area and unfamiliar with public transport, Esther was feeling uneasy about taking a train or bus, so her friend gave her a ride.
Esther fondly remembers her first visit to the Arrupe Community Centre: “JRS welcomed me so much…like a family member. They asked me to sit down and have a cup of coffee and a biscuit.” She recalls how happy she was and mentions that she even began to cry as she realized that the centre felt like her mother’s home – a place she was taken care of and loved.
No longer did she feel like a refugee, she was a woman among friends and family. At the centre’s food bank, Esther received sustenance in the form of food and other non-food items like pillows, blankets, and clothing. She was elated when the food bank workers told her she was more than welcome to return each week to get what she needed.
When asked why JRS works to accompany refugees and other forcibly displaced people like her, Esther simply responds, “I think they do it because they love people.” “The volunteers,” she continues, “are marvelous people.” Besides, helping her with finances and food, JRS Parramatta referred her to medical care in the area, providing her with a hand-drawn map of how to get to the doctor’s office.
Esther also took English courses at the centre. She says her teacher was patient and believes not even regular school would have given her an English education like the one she received at JRS. To this day, she speaks of the special love that the JRS volunteers at the centre provide: “Love means they welcome me. They ask me how I am feeling.” It is this love that transforms the JRS Arrupe Community Centre into a place that feels like home, a place that is welcoming, friendly, and inviting.
The centre’s work would be impossible without the dedication of volunteers. In fact, all the community-based programs at the centre are run by a group of over 50 volunteers. Each volunteer has decided to do one thing for migrants and refugees in whatever way they can – whether it be through teaching English, a hug, or even just a cup of tea.
*All names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals