When Leandro Mendes first arrived in Australia from Brazil, he couldn't speak English and thought he was only going to stay for four months. Now, 14 years later, with a university degree under his belt, he's now the Migrant Outreach Settlement Support Worker in the Northern Rivers region and helps other migrants and refugees who have settled in the area. Leandro said his experiences as a migrant have given him a good understanding of the issues that face newly arrived migrants in Australia.
"When I first arrived, life was difficult and exciting," Leandro said. "When you don't speak the language you can feel ashamed and it can especially be hard for older people. I think I'm a step ahead with understanding how it is for them. People migrate for a brighter future and I understand the process they need to go through."
Leandro's work is funded by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship Settlement Grants Program and he supports people who have permanent residency visas and have already been through the initial stages of settlement.
"While we have some refugees in this area, we also have a lot of migrants here," Leandro said. "Some are quite well settled but still need to access services and I can advocate for them and help them with referrals to services such as health and accommodation."
While some migrants come as sponsored workers and might not need assistance, Leandro said sometimes their spouses may need help.
"Sometimes migrants' wives may be isolated at home and don't speak English," Leandro said. "I can link them up with English classes, childcare or maybe relationship counselling if things are not working out well for them. One lady's husband had passed away and I helped her to get her visa and access to Medicare services.
Leandro has been working with migrants for the past seven years in Sydney and Darwin and said life for migrants in a regional area was different to that of those living in big cities.
"Migrant communities here are much smaller and the distances between them are greater," Leandro said. "My motto is to Pt a personal face on my work and I do a lot of outreach work, visiting people in their communities to let them know I am there to help them when they need it. My work is my passion; I'm happy to be doing this and to be becoming a part of this growing, multi-cultural community."
If you know of a migrant or refugee who may need assistance, Leandro is based at the St Vincent de Paul Society, 84 Magellan St, Lismore. He can be contacted by phone on 6698 0505 or 0435 659 829 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.