Last week I ran a workshop for Brotherhood of St Laurence in their Stepping Stones program, where refugee, migrant and asylum seeker women receive mentoring and training to support them in starting their own business.
I’ve been doing this work for three years now and I can’t tell you how much I love it. The women I meet are courageous and creative and many have travelled across the world with their children (and little else) in the hope of creating better lives for their families.
This year I met Salam, from Lebanon. In 2013, Salam, who was pregnant at the time, sold her possessions and left her country with her three small children. In her words, “I took refuge in a boat coming to Australia. I didn’t sleep, eat or drink for four days keeping an eye on my kids, making sure they didn’t jump in the water. I prayed to Allah.”
Salam and her children spent a year on Christmas Island before finally being granted entry to Melbourne. Knowing no English, she spoke to neighbours who taught her new words. Eventually, she enrolled in a certificate course in early childhood development and opened a family daycare.
Earlier this year, with her youngest child in school, Salam looked for other ways she could be productive with her time.
“Life gave me opportunities: A kind lady gave me an opportunity to sell anything in an event that her group was organising and gave me a free market stall. I didn’t know what to sell, neither did I have any money to buy. I had a lemon tree in the backyard and an olive tree on my street. The only thing I needed was salt and some jars. My caseworkers donated some jars to me when I told her about this. My pickled olive jars were ready for the market stall day and sold in less than two hours. One of the customers said to me, ‘My husband loved your pickled olives, Salam. They are made in a traditional way, so fresh and hardly seen in Australia. We would love to buy more.’ “
Salam realised cooking was one of her passions so she came up with the idea to start a catering business. She enrolled in the Stepping Stones mentoring program and before she had even finished the training, she had orders coming in.
“I made friends, I felt safe, I built trust and could share anything in the class. With the positive feedback about my food and the number of catering orders I received, I believed that I can open my food catering business and I did.”
Salam cooked lunch for our workshop group last week and her food was absolutely beautiful. What inspired me most though was her story and her spirit. Despite all of the hardship she has faced, she’s still warm and generous and keen to take on new challenges.
There’s so much we can learn from Salam. When we find ourselves worrying that we don’t have all of the answers or we feel afraid of the unknown, it’s helpful to remember our innate capacity for change.
Most of us don’t need to sell our possessions, take a treacherous boat journey or spend a year in detention to improve our lives. Yet few of us are as brave or as committed as Salam.
I wonder, what would you do if you had half of her courage?
Learn more about the Stepping Stones program here and if you’re keen to become a mentor in the program, find out how here. If you’re interested to contact Salam to organise catering, get in touch with the team at Stepping Stones who will put you in touch