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Migrants keen to volunteer, fit in — study finds

18 December 20150 comments

People newly arrived to Australia are keen to fit in with their local communities, connect with their neighbours, and contribute to society through volunteering, a new study has found.

A survey of almost 400 people new to Australia paints a picture of new migrants and refugees wanting to befriend Australians, be good neighbours and get involved in clubs and community groups.

Su Wei found her volunteering experience invaluable in her search for work

Su Wei found her volunteering experience invaluable in her search for work

The survey, carried out by migrant and refugee settlement agency AMES Australia, found more than half of people interviewed had volunteered in their local community; 44 per cent in their children’s schools, 23 per cent in local groups and clubs; and 52 per cent in helping other new migrants.

It found more than 90 per cent said “making friends outside the family” was the single most important thing that helped new arrivals feel part of the Australian community.

Ninety-four per cent of respondents had actually met other people outside their immediate family and their own community since arriving in Australia.

Having a job and children’s activities were cited as very important ways to meet people by 65 per cent and 62 per cent of respondents respectively, the survey found.

Less than half of respondents who had been in Australia for less than 12 months tended to be mainly in contact with people who speak the same language.

Sixty-one per cent said they knew their neighbours and 75 per cent said they could get help from their neighbours if needed.

Other things that helped people feel part of the Australian community were chatting to neighbours, working, attending arts or cultural festivals, and playing sport, the survey found.

It found social media was emerging as a key tool for social connection with people with eight out of ten new arrivals using it to contact people.

Lead researcher Dr Lisa Thomson said the study’s findings showed migrant communities were keen to integrate and contribute to their communities.

“The findings indicate that social connection through community activities and volunteering are important to newly arrived migrants during the first few months and early years of settlement,” Dr Thomson said.

“Almost three quarters of the people who participated in the study had been living in Australia for less than two years. These new migrants had met people not only from within their own community but also among the broader community; and we know that social connection is important to health and wellbeing.

“The survey clearly shows that new migrants have made an effort to meet people and feel part of the community. It is amazing that those surveyed had been here such a short period of time yet just under two-thirds knew their neighbours.

Volunteering was seen as being very important. Our results show that new migrants had met people outside their own immediate family and networks; just under two thirds knew their neighbours and nine out of ten felt that volunteering was an important way to meet and help people,” Dr Thomson said.

The survey canvased 400 new arrivals to Australia across Melbourne. More than half had been in Australia less than a year and another 39 per cent had been in the country between one and five years. Sixty-three per cent were women.

Respondents came from around 50 different countries:  26 per cent were from North East Asia (China, Hong Kong, Tibet, Taiwan); 18 per cent from South East Asia (Myanmar, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines); nine per cent from the Middle East (Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Syria); and, 7 per cent from Central Asia (Afghanistan).

Smaller numbers came from southern and East Africa (Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia) and southern Asia (India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka).

Su Wei, a migrant from China, said that volunteering enabled her to find full time work in Australia.

“After being a volunteer English tutor, I got a paid job as a bilingual teacher in January,” said Su.

Su volunteered at AMES Australia, a migrant settlement agency, and is now employed by them as an English teacher.

After doing her volunteer work Su decided to do a Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) course.

“The work experience I gained from volunteering opened up opportunities and I got to meet so many more interesting people that I wouldn’t have otherwise,” said Su.

“It makes me so happy to see my students improving, I really love helping people.”


Ruby Brown
AMES Australia Staff Writer