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A helping hand for sisters

30 Sep 2015

A helping hand for sisters Image

When Luz Restrepo arrived in Australia five years ago, she spoke no English and carried with her just two suitcases.

A political refugee from Colombia, Ms Restrepo said she felt like “a nobody” when she first arrived in Australia in 2010.

“When you first come here you understand that you are no-one if you don’t know how Australia works, the culture, how to meet people and you can’t understand what people say,” Ms Restrepo said.

Five years on and Ms Restrepo is now the founder and executive officer of SisterWorks, a social enterprise that helps women from migrant, refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds develop entrepreneurial skills.

Based at NAB’s “The Village” in Docklands, the organisation encourages women to use their entrepreneurial abilities to become self-sufficient.

With an academic and professional background as a university professor and marketing consultant, Ms Restrepo said the SisterWorks journey began when she started taking free English classes.

“I started to go to free English classes and started to meet women in the same situation as me,” she said.

“Amazing women with amazing backgrounds, with a lack of English, lack of confidence and many experiencing domestic violence, isolation or depression.”

“They’d been living here for two years, five years, 10 years, 20 years and feeling that they were nobody,” Ms Restrepo said.

Initially SisterWorks was known as the Multicultural Connections Centre and was a place where women of different cultures could come together to develop their English skills and socialise.

However, Ms Restrepo soon realised that, while learning English, the group could also be developing their business skills and the women began to make and sell craft, changing their name to Handmade by Multicultural Women.

In 2013 SisterWorks was founded and today employs four part-time staff.

According to Ms Restrepo, SisterWorks’ focus is on learning by doing and sharing knowledge and experience.

The grassroots enterprise offers work labs, where participants learn to do business and make an income through markets, pop-up shops, online sales and workshops.

They also participate in design labs, where marketable products are developed and business labs where participants, business mentors and industry experts come together with the aim of creating sustainable micro-enterprises.

Ms Restrepo said it was important to foster entrepreneurships amongst refugee, migrant and asylum seeker women.

“This is SisterWorks, the beginning of vulnerable women dreaming of being entrepreneurs and changing their lives.”

For more information about SisterWorks visit http://www.sisterworks.org.au

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