Please note: The images in this article were taken before COVID-19 restrictions were in place.
A group of Papua New Guinean women are building a better support network, thanks to a program of events funded through the Let’s Stay Connected Fund.
The Papua New Guinea Women’s Association of Victoria designed the Sister’s Connection project to combat isolation and loneliness during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The Victorian Government’s Let’s Stay Connected Fund is providing grants to programs like this across the state, to support community connection.
For founder Leesa Timbi, the $16,500 grant has meant an opportunity to nurture and grow the women’s group, which had its humble beginnings in a member’s living room.
“We’ve never had this kind of thing in our community before,” said Leesa.
“Obviously COVID-19 is a new situation too, and with this project we’re not only trying to keep our community connected, but to also upskill and learn new things. It’s about empowering these women with knowledge, especially when it comes to mental health.”
The project included participating in craftwork exercises, as part of a soft-entry approach to discussing mental health. Ultimately equipping the community with resources, and building awareness of the early signs of depression.
According to Leesa, an increasing number of Papua New Guinean women have arrived in Victoria since 2012. Most arrive under protection visas, escaping situations of domestic violence.
“We began back in 2016 as an informal group of Papua New Guinean women, having casual get-togethers,” she says.
“But in 2017 it became apparent there was a growing need for a local organisation to specifically cater for these women’s needs. After a first meeting, we agreed upon formalising a women’s association and our journey began.”
The Sister’s Connection now offers a variety of programs, including cooking and crochet classes, lessons in home improvement and discussions on mental health.
“The funding has helped in so many ways,” said Leesa.
“Apart from keeping our members connected during lockdown, which was the project’s primary goal, there have been multiple spin-off benefits as well. This kind of project and grant, is a first for our Victorian Papua New Guinean Community. It’s created stronger relationships with our supporting organisations such as the Brimbank City Council and IPC Health.”
“There is also an overall learning experience, gained from the implementation of the project from its start to finish, and that’s been priceless.”
“Our current patron is local councillor Cr. Victoria Borg. She has a PhD in mental health across cultures, and her knowledge and network has helped in so many ways. We’ve had nine classes in the Sister’s Connection project spread over five weeks, including cooking, home improvement, flower arrangement, crochet and a feather headdress class. As well as Pilates and meditation, there have also been classes in mental health and digital literacy.”
Demand for the program is growing. Cooking classes involving participants preparing and sharing traditional dishes have proven the most popular.
For Leesa, who arrived in Australia in 1998 and studied Asian Pacific Community Studies at Victoria University, the project has been a rewarding and enriching experience – a feeling shared by her sisters.
“The women have loved it! It’s been very empowering. It’s given us a sense of pride and made us happy as Papua New Guinean women.”
With the project having concluded, the group is planning a final celebratory dinner to take place at the Footscray Arts Centre. It will be a chance to share their stories and thank their supporters, including the Victorian Government and the Office for Suburban Development. With any luck there just may be some of their favourite dishes on the menu; chicken curry and custard pie!
For more information visit Lets Stay Connected.
Custard Pie recipe
Ingredients for base
- 3 cups self-raising flour
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 cups butter
- ½ cup milk or water
- 1 egg
Ingredients for custard
- 4 tbsp. custard powder
- 8 cups milk
- 1 tbsp. sugar
- 1 tsp. vanilla essence
- Mix sugar and butter.
- Add egg, flour and milk.
- When smooth, pat into a greased pan.
- Bake for 15-20 minutes at 180C.
- Check to see when browns.
- While pie is baking, prepare custard:
- Add milk to pot with sugar, and bring to boil.
- Mix custard with milk until smooth and thick.
- Pour into pie then leave to cool and set.
- If desired, decorate with pieces of peach.