Skip to main navigation Skip to main content

Friendship and support to begin a new life in Australia

Gordana Ivanovska knows the difference kindness makes when you’re starting your life over.

Red Cross volunteer Gordana Ivanovska has helped welcome families from around the world who are seeking safety in Australia.

“Just a little act of friendship has a big impact … To see someone doing something for them and trying genuinely to help, it makes a huge difference,” says the 36-year-old who volunteers supporting refugees and people seeking asylum.

Gordana has helped newly-arrived families from countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iran and Sudan, to feel welcome, valued and safe as they settle into Australian life.

“They appreciate when they see someone genuinely is trying to help, to be with them and to listen,” says the young mum, who moved here from Macedonia six and a half years ago. “I work to build their trust in me and for them to know I’m there always if they need any help … to be there and offer support, listen and be their friend.

“When I came to Australia, I felt good when someone was offering help, although my circumstances were different.”

Red Cross teams have provided a warm welcome to over 4,400 newly arrived refugees and humanitarian entrants from more than 30 countries over the last few years. Many went through difficult migration journeys to get here and have spent years in refugee camps.

Staff and volunteers like Gordana support people during their first year, helping them to understand and navigate life in Australia as they become self-reliant and active members of the community.

They do everything from welcoming families at the airport to setting up their new homes to taking people to doctors’ appointments. “We are setting up beds … and everything in the kitchen as well, for them to relax and not think about whether they’re going to find glasses to drink water from,” says Gordana.

The smallest things can make a huge difference, says the University of Wollongong student.

She remembers setting up a home for one family from Iran. “They went in and the two little daughters, toddlers, were sleeping. I’d just finished setting up the beds. I was imaging what would happen if I wasn’t there and the beds weren’t set up. It’s nothing big but it’s enough small acts that they find it easier in their lives. I just facilitate their life a little bit.

They love their country, and they all love Australia as well. It’s good for me, and for them, to communicate and share what we all bring [to] Australia.

Gordana Ivanovska

Each family has different needs – some might need help to enrol their children in school, others might need a hand to open a bank account or find a support group. Red Cross sets up a personalised support plan for each family.

Our teams also organise Welcome to Country experiences, community-led orientations in new suburbs and towns, and help people find volunteering opportunities, community groups and local services.

Most recently, Gordana supported a family from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “They’re pretty new in Australia and speak Swahili. They have difficulty with the English language and I will speak with the interpreter.”

She went with them to medical appointments and helped them work out where to buy everything from food and clothing to lightbulbs. And when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and she couldn’t visit in person she checked in with them through regular phone calls.

“I ask them about how they cope in this situation, how they sleep, if they need something. I ask about her children’s health, about her health, how is she managing with things every day.”

The family didn’t yet know many people in their community, she says. “They were asking me where can they meet people from Congo … They feel a little bit isolated at the beginning, which is normal. But with time they’ll meet new people.

“They struggle [too] a little bit with not having access to computers and internet, that’s a big thing because if they have a computer we can talk on Skype or Viber.”

Without a computer, life was also much harder for them when the schools closed and their children were studying from home, Gordana says.

At the moment fewer refugees and humanitarian entrants are arriving in Australia, due to COVID-19 international travel restrictions. So right now Gordana is working with refugees already living here helping them to improve their English language skills.

She says she likes having the chance to give back to the community and meet new people.

If I can do something good for others, that stays with them and they will remember the good things I did – that inspired me the most. When I came [to] Australia, I was facing the same issues that I see … at the beginning, which is normal, but with time you’re going to adapt and settle.

Red Cross’ much-needed support for newly-arrived refugees and humanitarian entrants is delivered on behalf of the Australian Government in Western Australia, the ACT and Illawarra and Riverina regions of New South Wales.

The program is made possible thanks to dozens of dedicated staff and volunteers, just like Gordana, along with the support of community members and our many, many partner organisations.

Find out more about how Red Cross teams support people seeking safety in Australia