Australian mentor program gives refugees a chance to follow their passion

Refugees graduate from Canberra's Calvary Hospital mentor program ready to join the Australian workforce.

Gardener, Alistair Carnegie with Calvary Refugee Mentor Program graduate, Tuang Phai-Pi.
© Calvary Hospital's Refugee Mentoring Program

Myanmar refugee, Tuang Phai-Pi, celebrated his graduation from Calvary Hospital’s Refugee Mentoring Program in Canberra, Australia this week.

The 12-week program provided refugees the opportunity to gain professional experience in an Australian workplace and help them settle into their new community.

“My favourite part of the program was learning how to cut and trim plants,” Tuang says.

In 2013, Tuang and his wife Man were resettled to Australia by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.

Warmly welcomed into the Canberra community, Tuang says “Australians are very polite and friendly.”

Man gave birth to their baby son, Solomon, last year at Calvary Hospital and Tuang sees his work as a way to give back to the hospital.

Gardener, Alistair Carnegie had never met a refugee until he became a mentor.

“They are so quick to learn things and it is just a joy to see the expression on their face and help them out. I would have Tuang back working with me tomorrow”.

Calvary Refugee Mentor Program in Canberra, Australia

Gardener, Alistair Carnegie with Calvary Refugee Mentor Program graduate, Tuang Phai-Pi.  © Calvary Hospital's Refugee Mentoring Program

As a mentor for six years, Alistair says he has been consistently inspired by the determination and work ethic of the refugees he has mentored.

“Many of these guys came from a farming background. When they came to me, they just took off”.

Calvary staff, from the gardening to nursing departments, share their skills and expertise with participants and in turn increase their understanding of the refugee experience.

“What drew me to the program is my interest in culture, caring for others and the hope I could help in a small way,” explains Karen McKinnon, a mentor since 2008.

Speaking at the graduation ceremony Karen said that the program was a very humbling experience.

“I know I can’t help all the refugees in the world… But I hope I’ve been able to help just a few in a small way”.

Catherine Stubberfield, External Relations Officer at UNHCR’s Regional Representation in Canberra, says the program was a wonderful example of the contribution of refugees and the impact that individuals and communities can make by supporting them.

“The Calvary Refugee Mentor Program shows just how much refugees achieve and how much we are all enriched in turn when we welcome them,” she says. “It can seem like a small action but it makes a huge difference.”

Tuang worked 1-2 days a week with Alistair and was also provided with volunteer career counselling sessions to identify his skills and develop his résumé.

His love for gardening stems from his childhood memories of his family’s farm.

“In Burma, we had a small family farm. I went with my father from our home in the city and sometimes we stayed there one or two weeks.”

Thankful for the skills that Alistair had taught him, Tuang says he hopes to find a job in the industry.

“Before I didn’t know how to plan a garden or trim plants. Alistair has taught me everything… and now I am looking for a gardening job”.