At the age of 10, Mary fled India with her parents to escape war and conflict in search for a better future. Eight years on, she has just been accepted into a Diploma of Nursing at Victoria University, moved out of home for the very first time and found work at a local Coles supermarket. Everything is falling into place for Mary, and she credits part of her success to CatholicCare Victoria’s Geelong Settle Well program.

'I was born in India but my parents are from Sri Lanka,' says Mary. 'We came [to Australia] by boat. I was young at that time… I thought it was like a vacation or something.'

'Crossing the border of India was pretty tough. Everyone was stressing. When we saw other boats coming… because we couldn’t show other people that we were leaving… we had to go in a room at the bottom of the boat.

'That’s when I realised this is not a vacation, it’s more serious than that.'

After a 15-day journey, Mary and her parents arrived at Cocos Islands and were then moved to Christmas Island, and eventually to Darwin, then Perth.

'They kept on moving us around, and then finally we came to Sydney,' says Mary.

The constant moving around meant that Mary moved schools every six months to a year, and the instability was unsettling.

'It was really depressing, and it was such a mental pressure. Because you have all your friends and you get comfortable in a new space, and then you get moved because of the government and the visa and everything. And now you need to make new friends,' says Mary.

'And since we are refugees it’s very hard to make friends, with discrimination and everything. It was pretty tough for me, so I just used to never talk to anyone because of that, I used to be a quiet kid.'

Mary mentioned that the syllabus at each school and in each State was different, as well as differing subjects, which made learning difficult.

She moved schools five to six times since arriving in Australia, until she moved to Northern Bay College in Geelong where she stayed for the final three years of her secondary schooling. It was here when Mary was introduced to Nestor from CatholicCare Victoria’s Geelong Settle Well program.

'Nestor used to help me and a few other refugee people like me, and he got me into this aged care work placement for my Allied Health subject,' says Mary.

'If I hadn’t met Nestor, I think I would still be at home and not at university. I think I would have even repeated the whole of year 12! Because if I’m struggling with something, I used to ask him, and he would be like "Mary you can do this, don’t worry!" He’s a very motivational person. He also helped me and my family with vouchers and any other places that would provide help.'

Through the Geelong Settle Well program, Nestor also provided Mary with mental health support, opportunities to participate in extracurricular programs, and help with where to look for work.

'Nestor is like the connector,' says Mary. 'He’s like in the middle, connecting me to everywhere.'

In fact, it was Nestor who put Mary in contact with Victoria University, where she’s now been accepted into a Diploma of Nursing.

'After I graduated high school, I was trying to get into a fashion course. I got offers for a couple of courses, but I couldn’t get into them - because I was considered an international student (because of my visa), I needed to pay $7,000 upfront and it was too expensive.'

'So I was trying to look for other ways to get into uni but there were nearly no ways... all the doors were closed. And then I tried to apply for free TAFE courses; that’s when I came across Victoria Uni running a free Diploma of Nursing. I talked to Nestor about it and he connected me with Julie [from Victoria University].'

'I don’t know where I would have been if he didn’t connect me with her. It’s always what I wanted to do - nursing - but the Bachelor of Nursing had a lot of upfront fees. Julie helped me with getting into Victoria Uni, and she was able to connect me with other people too which was really helpful. So now I’ve been offered into the course!'

Mary now has her own place close to her university, and she’s transferred her employment to a nearby Coles. Everything is falling into place.

'I have my own tiny house, it’s so cute. It’s so new to me, I feel like an adult now. I never imagined I would move out, it’s so nice! In my culture, girls can’t think about moving out. I’m like the first one! So I was so shocked… how did my parents even let me?! But my parents come to see me over the weekend.'

'It’s good that I moved out because my uni is four days a week, so I can’t be traveling a long distance every single day.'

With a bit of a helping hand, Mary has been able to create a brighter future for herself.

She’s now on the path to pursue her dream to study nursing, and we know that she will then go on to support others in the community, too.

'I recommended CatholicCare to my friends and family. And when I talked to them about it I would give them lectures and they’d be like "okay we get it!" But I was like, "I haven’t finished!" CatholicCare was really helpful.'

Show your support for refugees and donate today to help fund CatholicCare’s Refugee Support Service. This service is just one of the various programs offered by CatholicCare Victoria to help people who have been forced to abandon their homes in search of a better life.

Refugee Week (20-26 June 2021) is an opportunity to raise awareness of the plight of refugees, the efforts to protect their human rights and to celebrate the positive contributions they make to society. The theme for this year's Refugee Week is UNITY. A unified community is a supported community; a compassionate community; and a thriving community.