Each Monday, a group of women from migrant and refugee backgrounds visits Victoria’s Government House to take part in activities such as gardening, cooking, and handicrafts. They enjoy lunch with the Governor Linda Dessau AC and her husband, Anthony Howard QC, as well as tours of the buildings that have defined our state and country since 1876.
Run in partnership with Community Hubs Australia and the Scanlon Foundation, The Peace and Prosperity Kitchen Garden Program welcomes women from different Community Hubs each term. More than 240 women from 30 different backgrounds have taken part since it first began in 2015.
The program provides an opportunity to spend the day in an inclusive environment, build social connections, develop English-language skills, and grow in confidence. You can easily see how this initiative has fostered greater connections among the local communities, and also between the women and their home city.
‘Often the one thing that initially connects the women is the need to connect with others. This program is a small way in which my husband Tony and I can contribute to those important connections, and a sense of belonging for the women we welcome,’ explains the Governor, who is conscious that many participants hail from countries where they may have not felt safe nor welcome.
When I visit, it’s the last Monday of term and the women, originally from Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Vietnam among other countries, laugh with each other like close friends. They gather salad greens for lunch and huddle for a few prize selfies in-between – the back-drops of the Italianate Government House, lush Royal Botanical Gardens, and Melbourne’s skyline demand it really!
The energy is electric as I chat with some of the women, and I feel it in my cheeks as I subconsciously mirror their wide smiles. Later, over tea in Government House’s State Dining Room and the lunch table inside The Cottage, several women, unprompted, choose to speak of their pasts, hopes for the future, and express gratitude for the gathering.
‘In hosting these women in Victoria’s Government House, we intend to send a clear message to them that they are welcome in Victoria as a part of our vibrant and multicultural community,’ adds the Governor, who on Tuesday had her term extended until 2023 by the Queen. ‘We encourage everyone to be involved in their own communities, in whatever way they are able, to pass on this message of unity.’
Find out more about the Governor’s Peace + Prosperity Kitchen Garden Program, here, as well as myriad ways Community Hubs Australia is supporting migrant and refugee women to overcome social isolation, here.