Having a baby and moving house are considered two of the most stressful and greatest life changes you can experience… so imagine tackling both of those experiences in a new culture, with a new language. We delve into a very small part of the Bendigo Friends And Mentors program that is giving rewards to everyone involved.

Writer: Amy Doak – Photographer: David Field

Heidi Lindner has been one of the key figures behind the Bendigo Friends and Mentors group since its inception in early 2006 and is incredibly passionate about working with people from a refugee background in our local community.
“Bendigo Friends and Mentors provides social and material support and mentoring to refugees living in Bendigo, at their request. The group originally started out as the Bendigo Karen Refugee Project in February 2006.
“There hadn’t been a large settlement of refugees in the Bendigo area since the Vietnamese in the 1970s but in 2004 six Afghani men who were released from detention on Nauru were settled here. We were so heartened by the support that we received from the Bendigo community that in 2005, when Rural Australian for Refugees Bendigo hosted a group of Burmese refugees (including ethnic minority Karen) from Melbourne, we realised there was support for establishing a Karen refugee community in Bendigo.
“The Karen are predominantly rural people and this was a region that was really suitable for them. Since that time though, we have worked with people from many other nationalities who are calling Bendigo home, so changed our name to Bendigo Friends and Mentors to reflect that fact.
“Mentoring including general settlement support – orientating a newly arrived refugee family or individual with the local area, learning to use public transport, learning to use certain appliances in the home, safety, etc. Our needs are really driven by the requests we receive from the refugees and our most common mentor request is education and tutoring – developing confidence in English for both children and adults. In 2007 we received our first request for a pregnancy mentor.
“We find our mentors through word of mouth, registration with the Bendigo Volunteer Resource Centre and also through public events including: screenings of films at Star Cinema (Eaglehawk), fundraising barbecue at the Bendigo Community Farmer’s Market and craft displays and markets including the Zonta Christmas Market.
“Such community events are a great opportunity to speak with people about what we do. I continue to be amazed by the calibre of our mentors – including teachers, university lecturers and a range of health professionals. The cross section of ages and backgrounds of the people involved is so positive.
“For so many people of a refugee background their relationship with Westerners prior to settlement in Australia has been fleeting and superficial. It is wonderful to see these ongoing, trusting relationships build and assist in creating real connections with the broader Bendigo community.”…