Caring for others, building a future for themselves
Refugee and migrant women getting qualified as carework professionals.
© UNHCR/Joanna Demarco
A training course in carework has given refugee and migrant women the opportunity to gain a useful qualification, and the prospect of a more independent future. UNHCR Malta met with six women who studied to be carework professionals with the support of Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS).
Stable work and job satisfaction provide a sense of belonging in society, especially for refugees and migrants trying to rebuild their lives in a new country.
For refugee and migrant women, gaining access to the labour market can be challenging, and JRS Malta identified this as an issue among a number of women they support.
“Employment is key in terms of financial independence and integration, and we realised that more specialised support was needed… because of the many different obstacles faced.”
Julian Caruana, Psychosocial Team Coordinator at JRS
“There’s a lot of pressure on women because they need to take care of the family. They might come to Malta with less job experience and less language skills than men, on average, because they are given less importance in the education system of the countries they come from.” In addition, there are cultural barriers that affect their access to employment, like “discrimination based on what they wear, such as the hijab”.
After looking into their needs, JRS decided to support refugee and migrant women to pursue training in carework. Mario Gerada, Employment Programme Coordinator at JRS, pointed out that there’s a “practical reason” why many women want to pursue carework as a career. Malta has an aging population so carers will be increasingly needed. This means more chance of job security and stability. Carework is also a very rewarding profession centred around the wellbeing of vulnerable members of society.
As an implementing partner organisation of UNHCR Malta, JRS provides support to refugees and asylum-seekers through ‘Project Integrated’. Part of the carework course initiative was funded with the support of UNHCR Malta, particularly childcare provision for the mothers taking the course.
The training took place in summer 2018 at Future Focus in Floriana, and six women attended the course for a period of 8 weeks.
During this time, UNHCR met with the student careworkers and saw that they were enjoying the training. Apart from classroom lectures it entailed a compulsory work placement in an elderly home.
UNHCR asked the women to tell them a little about their placement.
Carework students with their teacher, at Future Focus in Floriana. © UNHCR/Joanna Demarco
Students completed an 8-week theoretical course and a practical placement. © UNHCR/Joanna Demarco
Refugee and migrant women face obstacles in accessing the labour market. Learning new skills provides better opportunities to work. © UNHCR/Joanna Demarco
Favour is from Nigeria, and fled to Malta three years ago with her husband and children. For her this course is a stepping stone that will lead to a new career. “My aim after this is to study more. I want to study childcare.” © UNHCR/Joanna Demarco
“In my country, we don’t really have elderly homes”, says Meena, who is Palestinian, “My placement was a very nice experience. I didn’t even know that there were people who take care of the elderly, and I found out that there is actually a difference between a nurse and a careworker.”
Meena has been in Malta for two years and said that it was not easy to find a job before. She speaks both English and Maltese, but she needed more skills to find stable work and knows that a job will help her feel even more integrated in the local community.
During their work experience the women also said that they got to know the elderly people they cared for. “I was very close with them, and when I finished the placement they were sad.” Says Funmilayo from Nigeria. She has been in Malta one year and feels passionate about her new vocation. “I learnt how to take care of the elderly, to make them happy. Because sometimes they don’t have family… So I really want to help them.”
The emotional aspect of the job was also evident in the way the students spoke about their clients. “Everyday, when I came back home from the placement, I really felt that I wanted to cry”, confessed Meena. It is difficult working with elderly persons who may be unwell or forgetful, she adds, and “after half an hour of talking to you, they forget your name.”
“The most important thing I learnt on this course is communication, and improving your relationship with elderly patients so that you can take care of them.”
Kaya, Carework student from Bangladesh
Apart from bonding with the residents, the students connected with colleagues in the church homes where they worked. Mario Gerada of JRS noted that it’s very important that refugees and migrants get to be in “mainstream” contexts. A place “where they are not refugees”, but employees, students, and co-workers, just like everyone else.
This was certainly the case for Meena, Funmilayo, Kaya, Semma, and Favour, who after this initial experience are looking forward to getting a job either at an elderly home or as a live-in carer after receiving their course certificate.
Initiatives such as these give refugees and migrants a foundation to rebuild their lives, while promoting social inclusion, empowerment and self-reliance. The hope is that training will lead towards better jobs or even further studies. For Favour, a woman from Nigeria who fled to Malta three years ago with her husband and children, this course is a stepping stone that will lead to a new career. “My aim after this is to study more. I want to study childcare.”
Whatever their reasons for pursuing the course, the qualification will mean more options, more opportunities and more independence for these refugee and migrant women. It will also give them the chance to contribute to society with their skills and dedication to caring for others.