This Brown Nurse (a nickname for nuns who are members of the order of Our Lady’s Nurses for the Poor) has spent her life working with people shoved out to the margins of our society: the homeless, the alcoholic, the drug-addled and the mentally ill. For the past six years she has spent one day a week volunteering with JRS, and she knows better than anyone that the struggle is far from over once asylum seekers have reached Australian soil. Even those who have been granted refugee status still face almost insurmountable challenges in their quest to settle themselves into the Australian community: unemployment, lack of affordable housing, and ongoing resentment from refugee-wary members of the community.
Sr Fogarty’s chief responsibility is to help refugees gain independence by transitioning from JRS’ Shelter Project into self-funded accommodation. But Sydney’s excessive rental costs are an obstacle for many refugees who are often simultaneously studying and working in low-paid jobs while trying to find their feet.
“When I started working here, there were lots of rooming houses around Kings Cross [where JRS is located], but they’re no longer there, and even if they are they’re very expensive,” she says.
There have been success stories, though, and they are all the sweeter for the hardship the refugees have experienced along the way. One such example is that of a Pakistani Christian who was persecuted for his religion and left his wife and baby behind while seeking out a new life in Australia. He was exploited by a landlord in western Sydney, but was finally able to smile again when he was reunited with his family in Australia.
“They were difficult circumstances, but better than what he left behind,” Sr Fogarty explains.
“He accepted it because he was looking for something better. He used to come and volunteer at JRS, helping other people. He’s done a course in nursing, he’s got a car. His family has come out. If refugees are able to get a little bit settled, and get into some sort of education, they can be successful.”
But Sr Fogarty fears that refugees’ resilience and mental health is at risk in a country as overtly anti-refugee as Australia.
“There are so many negative things said about refugees. I don’t listen to [shock jocks] Ray Hadley and Alan Jones, so I’m dismayed when people don’t share my sense of being open and willing to help these people. If they get help and settle, they’re going to contribute,” she laments.
“If you’re going to treat them meanly, and destroy their spirit, then they’ll end up like the [homeless] people I was working with in the city. There should be room and there should be a more generous spirit towards them. If you love people they’re going to grow and respond and be nurtured.”
Register your interest with JRS’ volunteer coordinator, Anne Porter at email@example.com or phone 02 9356 3888.