Recently, a recycling company did some research into the habits of the average Australian – particularly in the area of footwear. They found that on average, Australians own about five pairs of shoes that they don’t wear, and that half of us admit to throwing unwanted shoes in the rubbish.
But in reality, not everyone who calls Australia home has such easy access to footwear.
CatholicCare Victoria’s Asylum Seeker Support Program (ASSP) is providing practical support to families around Victoria that are currently seeking asylum in Australia. ASSP families are often doing it exceptionally tough, many have ‘no work’ conditions on their visas and little access to government services. They rely on goodwill and programs like ASSP just to cover their essential needs.
So, it was an exceptionally special moment for Maryam* when she received a call from our team inviting her and her family to receive some brand new shoes, courtesy of a donation from a store in Mansfield.
Having shoes is something we often take for granted. Some of us throw on the nearest pair when we leave the house, while others of us take great care to select a pair that suits our outfit or personality. ASSP families, on the other hand, are struggling financially and are often forced to buy second-hand shoes from charity stores or even pull them from hard rubbish.
So a pair of new, clean, unworn shoes still in the box? That is a gift of dignity.
And to have a choice of which shoes to take, to pick from beautiful leather ladies’ shoes and runners for the kids? That is something our ASSP families wouldn't ever expect.
So it’s no wonder that when Maryam came with her kids to pick up her new shoes she brought the team a gift. A small, hand-made flower. A simple thing, made of pipe-cleaners and a chocolate wrapper. A meaningful gift, given to communicate a deeply grateful heart.
Rewind a few months, and I am standing in our East Melbourne office with two co-workers sorting shoes. Hundreds of them. Mostly fashionable ladies’ shoes, some runners and kids shoes, and a small number of men’s shoes. They have come from a store in Mansfield and we are dividing them up to be sent to our various ASSP teams in Epping, Eltham, Dandenong, Geelong, and Footscray. Almost 500 pairs in total.
As we boxed them up to be sent away we had no idea how impactful and meaningful those shoes would be. A gift of dignity to families who have endured so much and continue to live in a state of hardship and hopelessness, waiting years to hear if they will be accepted as refugees or rejected and sent away.
CatholicCare’s work with our ASSP families is only a drop in the ocean against the amount of need. Although we can provide some material support – grocery vouchers, some furniture, or a small amount of rent assistance – asylum seekers live with a great deal of hardship. Some families survive on just $200 of groceries a month.
By donating to CatholicCare you can help support this very important work – not only through our Asylum Seeker Support Program but also through our many other programs that benefit ASSP families such as the Job Readiness Program or Emergency Relief.
Maryam and her family have been supported by CatholicCare for several years now. They have no work rights and receive minimal support from the government. After receiving their new shoes, Maryam returned to the team and said,
"I don’t know where I would be without CatholicCare’s help. I’ve got a little bit of money saved up, can I give it to CatholicCare to help other people?”
Wanting to honour this precious gift but also knowing their need our worker replied,
“Thank you so much, but hold on to it for now because we don’t know what will happen next for you. Your turn will come though – when you’re past this experience you will have the opportunity to help others in the same way.”
* At CatholicCare Victoria, we respect everyone who comes to us for help and many are working towards a fresh start in life. While the stories and quotes are true, the client’s name has been changed to protect their privacy.
Brent Grimes | Communications Officer
Programs Benefiting Asylum Seekers: