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Gift of food and friendship helping families settle in Mildura

14 March 20240 comments

An innovative new project is connecting Congolese and Burundian families newly arrived in Mildura with members of the existing local communities.

Set up by Jules Kangeta, a Case Manager at migrant and refugee settlement agency AMES Australia, the project sees members of the established communities contribute money to buy a big bag of maize flour – an important staple food in East Africa that is not available in major supermarkets. The flour is donated to the newly arrived family as a token of welcome to Mildura.

The contact details of a key community leader are stapled to the bag of flour which allows the family an opportunity, if they choose, to connect with a community member and thus more quickly integrate with the local community.

Jules said the project was aimed at providing mentorship and support as much as it was a gift of food.

“It’s about connecting newly arrived families with the local community. When people arrive, they don’t have access to this staple food and find it difficult to get hold of,” Jules said.

“So, as part of the welcome we prepare for them, we give them a bag of maize flour and to that we attach the contact details of a community member they can reach out to if they wish,” he said.

Jules said the project was influencing people to stay and settle in Mildura.

“Some people arrive thinking that they are here alone. But the maize bag project lets them know that there is an existing community here in Mildura from whom that can get support,” he said.

“We have seen people who initially wanted to relocate, realise that there is a community her and decide to stay.

“The feedback we have had from clients so far has been really positive and the initiative seems to be making a positive impact,” Jules said.

He said that scheme, which began in late 2023, had so far welcomed three families and there were plans to extend it to other communities.

The project stems from Mildura’s innovative Food Next Door program, which matches under-utilised farmland with landless farmers to support small-scale regenerative farming, growing diverse crops while also engaging people from diverse backgrounds to supply food to local households.

On one five acre plot, east of Mildura’s town centre, there are farmers from Burundi, The Congo, Zimbabwe and Kenya at work.

Each farmer has a small plot on which they grow maize as well as okra, beans, eggplant, turmeric, chard, beetroot, carrots, onions, peas, sugar cane, peanuts and more. They are even attempting to grow bananas.

The co-op, which is a partnership with the local multicultural organisation the Sunraysia Mallee Ethnic communities Council (SMECC), also supplies fresh food to the local ‘Food Hub’ charity which distributes to disadvantaged local families as well as to a business called ‘Out of the Box’, which sells the produce online to local families.