Refuge of Hope: Supporting Melbourne’s growing Latin American student community

COMMUNITY organisation Refuge of Hope offers Latin American students and workers new to Melbourne a place where they can improve their English, meet new people and find help in time of need. Jennifer Zhao learns more about the group that’s helping Melbourne’s growing Latin American community.

Latin American students gather every week to make friends and practice English. Photo supplied

With a growing population of Latin American students and immigrants coming to Australia to study and work in recent times, one organisation has done its best to support this particular group as they transition into new life in Melbourne.

Refuge of Hope is a community organisation that aims to make life easier for students and workers from areas across South America and beyond by offering referral services in wellbeing, running social events and providing emotional support in moments of crisis. Additionally, the group also offers them chances to brush up on their skills by holding English practice sessions and job-hunting workshops.

Having established a reputation of excellence over the years, Refuge of Hope’s value for new Latin-American students should not be undermined, said the organisation’s Administration Manager Antonella Di Fiori.

“To start a new life alone as a student is hard but it is not as hard as most students imagine it to be. Sometimes, all they need is a helping hand and a caring heart. To them, we are like their home away from home,” she said.


Refuge of Hope’s Food Hamper Program has helped provide basic food needs to Latin American students and workers. Photo supplied

Alfonso Nova understands the value of Refuge of Hope and has been involved with the organisation for two years.

Originally from Colombia, he and his wife came to Australia to study and found life in the country quite difficult at first, especially given the language barrier.

“I am really grateful that we found Refuge of Hope, the organisation has been so generous to us and everyone. [They’ve given] us free English lessons and even daily food like egg, milk, meat and fruit,” Mr Nova said.

Mr Nova isn’t the only person to have found himself in this situation. In the past three months, 400 international students have also received food from Refuge of Hope through a government-funded Food Hamper Program.

In addition to providing daily necessities, Refuge of Hope believes a healthy mind is just as important as a healthy body. With consulting services in place, students can also go to Refuge of Hope if they want to chat about anything that’s making them feel down.

Alexander Carlos is a Chilean student at RMIT who likes to go and talk to someone when he just needs a good listener.

“It is not easy to be an international student living and studying in a foreign country. I feel like sometimes I just want a good friend who can listen to me to talk things out,” he said.

Taking Refuge of Hope members to a fun footy event is just one of the many social events and activities this organisation holds to help make students feel warm and welcome. Photo supplied

In the past, Refuge of Hope has also helped international students who suffer from loneliness and depression by connecting them with the community and getting them involved in social events and activities that the organisation has to offer.

Students can give as much as they receive from Refuge of Hope as well. With voluntary positions across a variety of roles including administration, marketing and training, Refuge of Hope allows everyone to give back to the community in their own way.

“Our volunteer program gives everyone the chance to be part of everything that we do for the international student and Latin American community,” Ms Di Fiori said.

Colombian Joanna Maria is just one of the the group’s volunteers who enjoys helping out those in need and finds it to be a rewarding experience.

“I feel so rewarded by helping others. I was once a Latin-American international student too, so I can relate to all [the types of] difficulties they might be going through and offer my insights from my own experience,” Ms Maria said.

For more information on Refuge of Hope or if you want to learn how you can volunteer and help the Latin American community in Melbourne, have a look at Refuge of Hope’s official website.

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