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22 March 2021
Welcome Project changing lives for new arrivals and their hosts
Words Lauren Martin
When Adrian Kistan arrived in Australia as a child with his family from South Africa, he remembers the daunting feeling of being in an unknown country and knowing absolutely no one.
The family connected with a small Uniting Church, with Adrian saying, “We were the first people of colour that they had encountered in their congregation in I don’t know how long, probably forever!” But there was one older gentleman at that church who had a profound impact on the way the Kistan family settled into the country they now called ‘home’.
“A dear old gentleman, his name was Kent Sutherland, just loved us,” Adrian remembers. “He was this grey-haired man who would just come and take us around to parts of Sydney and show us Sydney and explain what slang words meant.
“When my mum and dad were busy both working two jobs, he would be the one who would come to our cross country or our athletics carnival and be cheering us on at the finish line.”
Adrian counts Kent Sutherland as the person who made the single biggest difference in terms of the family’s assimilation into Australia. The simple act of friendship.
Now, as General Manager for Diversity and Inclusion for The Salva, Adrian is overseeing a unique initiative called the Welcome Project, which offers friendship and welcome to new migrants. Initially funded through a Multicultural New South Wales grant, the project has been operating in the state since late 2020. The grant allows the Salvos to offer welfare support to refugees and asylum seekers through its Doorways (emergency relief and case management) program and SAL (Salvos Assessment Line) connect telephone line. During those initial contacts, the person being assisted is asked if they would like to have contact with a member of the Salvos, as part of an inclusion initiative. Adrian says the overwhelming answer is: “Yes!”
“The vast majority of people have said, ‘Yes, we are so lonely here in this country’.”
Their contact details are then passed on to the Diversity and Inclusion team, who match them with a volunteer from a local Salvos church in the vicinity of where they live. That person makes contact and starts a journey of welcoming friendship with the new arrival and their family.
“It’s a cultural exchange,” says Adrian. “It’s not just about helping somebody but also discovering more about their culture and their story and their journey. “I’m really excited about this project!”
The Diversity and Inclusion team hopes to expand the program to other Australian states and territories later this year.