I am walking with them

Sr Nance with refugee Colletta

Sr Nance with refugee Colletta

It is difficult and an incredible challenge for them to think about moving when they’ve been in such a nurturing, welcoming, homely place, and then to have to launch into the deep.

She started out as a gate-crasher and has ended up as an important member of Jesuit Refugee Service’s volunteer team, one who today regards her work among asylum seekers and refugees as “a privilege and a joy”.

But Mercy Sister Nance Cale very nearly missed out on this life-changing opportunity: although friends had encouraged her to attend a JRS conference on volunteering with the organisation, she didn’t believe she had anything to offer.

“I said, ‘Well I can hardly go when I’ve got nothing to do with refugees’,” she recalls. “[I thought] the conference was for those who were already involved in that ministry, and I was gate-crashing.”

Nance had recently come to the end of a year-long sabbatical after years of working in aged care. Searching now for a new challenge, she put her reservations to one side, attended the conference – and came away inspired. 

“Aloysious [Mowe SJ, Director of JRS] was there. I offered that I could come in two days a week and [the job of assisting refugees obtain accommodation] was the role that he gave me. It was a miracle,” she recalls.

Today Nance supports and assists refugees who are transitioning out of JRS’ Shelter Project and finding their own feet in the community. It’s a job in which she has to liaise with real estate agents and search for affordable accommodation in a market where rents are already high and continue to skyrocket day by day.

“My greatest challenge is in finding accommodation for clients because of their minimal income and the cost of accommodation. We have temporary accommodation only, so it is difficult and an incredible challenge for clients to think about moving when they’re been in such a nurturing, welcoming, homely place, and then to have to launch into the deep as it were, and my heart goes out to them.”

While Nance fulfils a pragmatic role at JRS, she is always mindful of the power of accompaniment and solidarity, especially for people who are most often undergoing an anxious struggle. Building relationships with refugees and asylum seekers takes time, patience and commitment, she says – but the rewards are manifold.

“It takes a little while, they’re a bit nervous when they come to me, but after a while they realise I am for them, I am walking with them and want the best for them even though it’s a difficult time,” she says.

“I enjoy being with the clients, and it is a delight to see the growth in trust and in the relationship, and to see new hope on their faces. This isn’t always fulfilled, of course. I enjoy their sense of humour in the middle of all the chaos, and to be able to assist such devastated people for me is a privilege and a joy – if you could have both [joy and devastation] together.  It’s a joy for me to work with JRS.”

Register your interest with JRS’ volunteer coordinator, Anne Porter at volunteers@jrs.org.au or phone 02 9356 3888.

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