Launching the Hope Kiosk: family-wide support for asylum-seeker background students

By Sally Morgan

It is vital that educators act to try to dismantle the social inequities they discover through their practice. We are privileged to work at the frontline of daily social change, and our work is a wonderful messy mix of teaching, learning and researching that shapes and is in itself, social action. As an educator in a range of roles – teacher, school curriculum and team leader, educational activist and researcher – with asylum-seeking students, I have long been committed to finding out about and building practices that work around and help to overcome the multiple barriers that Australia’s political, legal and social systems construct that exclude people who sought asylum by boat from full and sustainable educational participation.

My experiences have only strengthened my conviction that (1) being an educator demands empathic solidarity and (2) that such solidarity is an essential part of purposeful grass-roots practice for social justice. I have come to believe that educators can take certain kinds of action that is at once relational and political, neither fearful nor feeble in the face of the unjust exertion of state power. Such practices are in themselves the wonderful stuff of change. 

What we found

In my doctoral study, Partnering for Hope, I worked with post-secondary asylum-seeking students, most of whom were studying on scholarships at a range of universities across Melbourne. One of the things that research found was that while the benefits to students on fee-waiver university scholarships were life changing, they remained significantly and persistently disadvantaged. Their parents often had little or no English language skills and they were the only adults in their family with strong English and experience in dealing effectively with Australian institutions of any kind.

They were trying to straddle two cultures and multiple demands: to study in their third or fourth language, to work to support themselves and their families and often to manage time-intensive needs of other family members – parents with various health issues, younger siblings education/school issues and whole family immigration visa-related issues. These young people told us clearly that in order to really help, we needed to take a whole-family approach. 

What’s happening?

One of the responses to what we found has been a business plan for the Hope Kiosk, as the first Hope Co-Operative Social Enterprise Project. It has come about through conversations between Hope Co-op, Earthworker Co-operative and Victorian Trades Hall, and the empty kiosk space there. Trades Hall are generously subsidising 100% of the rent for the first few months, and Hope has been able to use a small business-development grant from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre to begin preparations. 

One asylum-seeker background family has decided to take on the challenge, learn to make great coffee and become part of the Trades Hall community, and together we have been cleaning, planning, getting initial training for the mother and daughter team, certification and registration of the business premises, and painting!

The Kiosk is due to be launched on May Day at Trades Hall, in Carlton, Melbourne. May Day is traditionally a day of celebrating the rights and gains of workers, including the eight-hour working day. It symbolises the rights and capabilities of workers to stand together and resist exploitation by the powerful. People seeking asylum have been among the most oppressed in Australian society – their human rights do not exist in Australian law; the Amendments to the Migration Act (2014) orchestrated by the previous government removed their right to natural justice, including that of fair legal process. It is wonderfully fitting that despite the most powerful exclusionary efforts by Australia’s highest authorities, Riya and Dilini’s rights to participate in their local society and economy have been upheld in solidarity, by grassroots community action. Alongside Riya’s first coffee sales and snacks, this solidarity will be marvellously celebrated on May Day. 

Who’s involved?

The kiosk will be run by one Sri Lankan mum, Riya, and her daughter Dilini. Dilini has just finished her Bachelor of Science through an asylum-seeker scholarship at the University of Melbourne, has outstanding English and multiple skills. Her mum Riya, has had very low level English, been completely socially isolated for many years and just recently has become connected to the Hope Co-op community. The benefits for Riya are already becoming clear: she has learned to navigate public transport alone for the first time, has been able to purchase a phone and communicate enough in English to come to planning meetings and painting days. She has done her Barista and Food Handling certificates, and her wellbeing has been improving steadily just through embarking on this together. 

Riya is also a highly skilled Sri Lankan cook, and after more than 10 years of being severely impacted by harsh Australian asylum-seeker laws, is excited about reviving her passion for hospitality. Her family, including Dilini, two school aged children and another sister who has just begun university after years of being locked out of higher education, will benefit for decades to come from Riya’s having work, developing her English and financial literacy, and being happily connected with instead of isolated from local community.

How you can help?

To launch the Hope Kiosk, Hope Community Foundation is aiming to raise $26,000 to cover the cost of the second hand coffee machine, add some shelving and cupboards to the Kiosk space, and subsidise Riya’s wages by 50% for six months, to allow her to develop the Kiosk into a self-sustaining Social Enterprise. 

We have launched a crowd-funding campaign on the local Australian platform, Pozible. So far we have raised over $5500, but we need help to get to our first half-way target of $13,000. There are two things you can do to help: 

1 – donate to the campaign

2 – share the link widely with your own networks, now and several times in the coming month. 

Thanks for reading, and if you live or work close to Carlton, please keep an eye out for the Hope Kiosk banners on Lygon and Victoria streets, and pop in for a coffee! If you live far away, I hope this blog post inspires you a little in whatever your part is in our communal work for social good, active citizenship and inclusive education.

You might also like to look at Earthworker and Hope Co-operative

Sally Morgan has a PhD from Monash University. Her research is in education, agency and employment pathways for people of asylum seeker background. She wrote this piece during the 2023 AARE conference.

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