Networks of support
Understanding the characteristics and features of networks that would support women from refugee and migrant backgrounds to access education and employment was at the heart of the 3Es to Freedom program and the associated research. The shift from a timetabled educational program to a program that fostered social networks came with the recognition of the link between social capital, well-being and employment. As Woolcock (1998, p.154) indicated, social capital enables people to be ‘hired, healthy, happy and housed’. The first phase of the action research focused on investigating and understanding the nature of these networks (Whitaker, Hughes, & Rugendyke, 2018).
We found that the women were keen to connect with people, bonding with one another and bridging across community groups. Many of the women were already well connected within their cultural group. As they became “very comfortable and very relaxed” with one another and in the group, the safe space that was fostered provided a forum in which they helped one another to understand and navigate Australian culture, including sources of support such as foodbanks and in the use of English. The safety of the space created within the 3Es to Freedom program also boosted their confidence to explore together geographical sites, amenities, community groups and community resources. This, in turn, bolstered their sense of belonging to the locality and broader population and provided access to connections that would potentially lead to employment pathways. It also increased the visibility of the multicultural community. In brief, the women welcomed, looked for and nurtured safe spaces, as well as connections to the broader community and the opportunities that such connections might afford them.
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