CEO Blog – 02.12.21
Finding beacons of hope in dark times
The 90 per cent vaccination rate achieved this week and the opening of international borders, hopefully in two weeks, are wonderful developments giving us a sense that things are returning to something approaching normal.
We at AMES Australia are seeing clients and staff back at our sites and soon we’ll have students back in classrooms.
No one would have believed almost two years ago that we would be in this situation; only now coming out of a series of debilitating and damaging lockdowns.
But, despite the terrible economic and health consequences of the pandemic, there have been some silver linings in the challenges we have faced.
We, as an organisation, have innovated and put many of our employment, education and settlement services online, we have continued to support our clients and students remotely, and we have made positive contributions to keeping diverse communities safe during COVID.
And throughout the pandemic, we have also continued to get large numbers of people into jobs.
The last few months has seen an extraordinary effort on the part of AMES Australia staff, volunteers and corporate and community partners to respond to the recent emergency intake of more than 2000 Afghan refugees.
I’m proud of the way we have all responded to the challenge; and I’m also impressed and grateful for the offers of help and the tangible support we received from the broader community.
In normal years, before the COVID-19 pandemic, AMES would support around 4000 refugees to settle here. With international borders closed, we have seen very few arrivals in the past 20 months.
But in fifteen days around the end of September we welcomed almost 2000 people airlifted out of Kabul in dramatic circumstances.
Almost all of these people needed housing, food, clothing, personal necessities, medical and mental health care, COVID vaccinations, and reassurance that things would be OK.
This group of new arrivals is very different to most of the refugees we support to settle in Australia.
Many of them were forced to flee their homes with just days’ notice, leaving behind their lives, homes and careers – and in many cases – also their families and loved ones.
Many of them already had strong connections with Australia. Some were interpreters working with the Australian Defence Force, others worked with the Australian Embassy or on programs funded by Australia.
Others are here because of their particularly vulnerable circumstances. We have human rights activists, journalists, bureaucrats and women’s rights campaigners; as well as artists, teachers and sportswomen among the people we are supporting.
Despite trauma and dislocation they have suffered, we have seen incredible resilience and optimism among this group of Afghans.
In the coming months we will be walking beside them supporting them to build independent new lives in Australia.
We are already working with them to help them find permanent homes and educational and employment pathways.
We are helping them to orientate themselves to a new society, find connections in the community as well as a sense of belonging in their new homeland.
This group differed from most refugees we work with in that most arrived with very little more than passports or ID documents and the clothes they were wearing.
While Australia’s Humanitarian Settlement Program is generous and comprehensive, it was not designed to cater for the kind of emergency intake that was triggered by the dramatic events in Afghanistan in late August.
That’s where the corporate and community sectors, as well as individuals, stepped in to help.
We have received literally thousands of pieces of clothing and footwear, pallet loads of nappies, baby formula and toiletries, as well as hundreds of digital devices and tablets.
There have been donations of culturally appropriate food, toys for children and prayer packs as well as offers of jobs and friendship.
All of this has happened under the restraints of COVID health protocols, which makes it all the more remarkable.
In the early days of the emergency response, we were able to find 800 beds in a matter of just a few days to accommodate the first arrivals.
Since then, the work of AMES staff and our partners has seen more than 2000 vaccinations administered to clients, with the vast majority now double dosed.
There have been 200 orientation sessions delivered, more than 2500 medical referrals and three babies delivered safely.
And we have placed more than 500 families in permanent homes. These are just a few areas of the support that has been provided.
At a time when the world can seem to be spiralling into divisiveness and polarisation, and as we come out of the trials of the pandemic, it has been truly inspiring to see good will and compassion at work.
Cath Scarth, AMES Australia CEO
2 December 2021