Settlement poses unique challenges for men.
Many men from refugee backgrounds come to Australia from countries where it is the cultural norm for males to be the head of the household. They are used to taking the lead in working outside the home, being the source of family income and generally dealing with the world outside the family unit. It can be a big shock after being financially independent to find oneself in Australia, trying to support a family in a strange environment on a small allowance, while trying to find a job where one has no local experience or networks.
Because of those traditional cultural gender roles, after arriving in Australia men are often the first to start engaging with the Australian community – looking for work, going to TAFE, starting to learn English, and enrolling children in schools. Trying to understand and settle within Australia, navigating complex systems with no local support network after the huge disruption that is the refugee experience can be very difficult on a practical level. It can also be a significant emotional burden, particularly when a person is dealing with the impact of trauma.
QPASTT’s Wangarra Men’s Group was designed in 2013 as a therapeutic, recreational group for men in their early stages of settlement, to enable them to take a moment out of this monumental transition to enjoy fun and meaningful activities with their peers.
Group activities include tours of Brisbane City Hall and Queensland Parliament, with opportunities to meet with Members of Parliament and City Councillors over morning tea. Learning about Australian civic life and having access to local political representatives helps to connect people to place and to foster a strong sense of belonging here in Queensland – especially meaningful for those who have fled persecution or oppressive political regimes.
Each term of the Wangarra Men’s Group includes connection with Aboriginal elders to learn about their history and the impact of colonisation on Australia’s First Nations people. Uncle Albert gave the Wangarra Men’s Group its name. Wangarra means ‘come together as one’ and in working with the Wangarra Men’s Group through the years, Uncle Albert has reflected on the impact of trauma for refugees and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The core focus of Wangarra’s activities are to foster enjoyment, feelings of wellness, peer companionship and friendship, but the activities inevitably yield more outcomes. Participants have many opportunities to practice their English with fellow group members and the local community. Going to a Brisbane Broncos game to experience the NRL, or visiting Bribie island to go swimming give group members the opportunity to learn how to navigate public transport and understand beach safety.
Being able to connect with fellow refugees and share their own refugee journeys is particularly important. “A participant had been seeking refuge in Lebanon for three years,” says group facilitator Baseem Koujak. “Then he talked with another participant from Ethiopia who had been in refugee camps in Kenya for ten years. He said ‘Oh my goodness, I thought I had been in a really bad situation.”‘ Finding out that you are not alone in the challenges you have faced as a refugee can be powerful validation as people come to terms with difficult and distressing experiences.
After a Friday Wangarra session, many men will take their families on the same activity the next day, sharing what they have learned and helping to offer their own families these experiences of fun and connection in this place they now call home.
If you would like to join a QPASTT group, complete our referral form and one of our team will be in touch. You can refer yourself or someone else (with their consent).