When Joseph Sieh was born, the Liberian Civil War was at its height, and he was sent far from the refugee camp to live in Nigeria with relatives.
It was only when he was nine that he realised that the woman he called his mother was actually his aunt and that the woman who would pop by occasionally was, in fact, his real mother and she was taking him to start their lives as refugees in Australia.
But being the only African in his class in suburban Perth wasn’t easy. Neither was being parted from the only family he had known – his aunt and cousins.
“It was very shocking, because everything I knew [wasn’t true],” Mr Sieh says.
“Then I found out I had a brother. Everything just changed in couple of weeks.”
Things got tough again when he decided to follow his then girlfriend to Melbourne four years ago.
“When I moved here she was the only person I knew, so it was a little bit like starting all over again, trying to network with people and find my way around,” he says.
“It was a little difficult.”
Then, he says, things got worse when his car and motorbike were stolen.
“[It] created a bit of a domino effect,” Mr Sieh says.
“I lost my job and my house as a result, so I had to move in with a friend.”
But now the Truganina resident is hoping for a fresh start.
The 25-year-old is taking part in a new Wyndham City Council pilot project which aims to teach vulnerable young people, especially from an African background, how to get a job.
A six-week initiative, the Fresh Start Leadership Program comes with an interview with local businesses at the Pacific Werribee shopping centre.
“Some people are satisfied on the dole … but if you have something you want to achieve … I don’t see how you can be happy just sitting around if you have a dream and a goal,” Mr. Sieh says.
“Hopefully, this program will get me on my feet again and help me to work towards something that I can be proud of.”
Jon Machler, youth cultural development officer at Wyndham City Council, says the program, which is open to anyone aged 15 to 25 years, was developed in part to curb incidents of youth violence in the area.
The Fresh Start Leadership Program targets young people who have become disengaged, or those like Mr. Sieh who are hoping to get a helping hand.
“A lot of violence was happening out here, there was home invasions … a lot of thefts and robberies, intimidating behaviour in the shopping centre and public areas” Mr. Machler says.
“Having joined up on a working group with the Victoria Police … [it] sparked the idea of creating a program that gives these young people something tangible, because they were quite disengaged.
“Some of these young people have been living in refugee camps for the past five or six years.”
According to the latest census, almost 42 per cent of Wyndham residents were born overseas, that’s more than the rest of Melbourne and Victoria. More than 41 per cent of the council’s residents speak a language other than English at home.
“The young people that have joined the program are really passionate about trying to do better for themselves,” Mr. Machler says.
The current cohort of 19 boys and girls are from migrant or refugee backgrounds, including from Africa, India and Vietnam, and were either referred by police, community organisations or schools.
Once a week, students take part in a two-hour class, learning retail and hospitality skills, including sales and customer service.
Mr. Sieh, who loves fashion, is hoping to work with Myers, one of the retailers partnering with the council on the program.
He says the training has helped him regain his self-confidence.
“I just felt like nothing was working for me. The harder I tried, the more thing seem to escape … it gets tiring, sometimes it makes you want to give up,” Mr. Sieh says.
“The course … makes me feel like for once something might go my way.”
Source: News Now/The Age