Community GroupsNews

Sustaining community development

ALEXANDRIA: South Sydney Community Aid (SSCA) offers valuable social services to residents in Redfern, Waterloo, Darlington, Alexandria, Erskineville and beyond. The Multicultural Neighbourhood Centre in Alexandria Town Hall, Garden Street, caters to individuals and families: migrants and refugees, people on a low income or experiencing social isolation, the unemployed, seniors, and people living with a disability. Natasha Sitanala is the Bilingual Community Development Worker and Playgroups Coordinator at SSCA.

Natasha Sitanala in Redfern. Photo: Claire Mahjoub
Natasha Sitanala in Redfern. Photo: Claire Mahjoub

In July 2010 Ms Sitanala began as a “volunteer and part-timer” with a background in early childhood education. She recounts “falling in love” with South Sydney. “I saw such a good community,” she says. “The people were really lovely.” She recalls meeting then Acting Executive Officer Bill Yan and Community Development Worker Laura Kelly, along with four social work students from Sydney University, for a creative “brainstorming” session. Excited to be “starting from scratch”, the group were concerned with making SSCA “a better, more friendly and safer place to be”.

“We actually started, then stopped, a couple of programs,” she says. “Some, including an Easter morning tea, seemed small-scale social activities but not really sustainable community development programs.” The defining characteristics of the latter include accessibility and inclusivity, the meeting of needs as expressed by the community (consultation and feedback are essential to the process), and, importantly, the interest and commitment of volunteers.

More than 30 volunteers are involved in various SSCA programs each week.

In regard to sustainability, two aims of the incorporated co-operative seem especially apposite: to stimulate and provide channels for individual and group participation in the development of services in the area; to stimulate and provide opportunities for the development of adult education in the area.

New projects were established in 2011: a bingo group was started by a group of students on placement, a painting group, then two playgroups – one for carers from non-English-speaking backgrounds, the other for families wanting to enroll their children at local schools.

“I’m doing the playgroup in partnership with Connect Redfern, down in Alexandria Park Community School,” Ms Sitanala says. “The families come from Alexandria, Beaconsfield, Zetland, Waterloo, Redfern and Darlington.”

The art and bingo groups continue to be held at Poets Corner in Redfern. “Our location [in Alexandria] is ‘off the beaten track’ for the Redfern and Waterloo community. The Poets Corner groups serve as outreach, telling the community in Morehead Street and surrounds that we exist.”

Natasha’s workload and schedule have steadily increased from two to five days per week. She recounts the establishment of an Indonesian support group, which after just three months included over 60 members.

There are now several cultural groups – Indonesian, Eastern European, Vietnamese and Chinese.

The SSCA website lists many programs and facilities, from a free telephone, fax, photocopying and internet service to a free translation service, from English and computer classes to a free multicultural knitting group. There are bus trips and meeting rooms, Tai Chi and Mahjong, information, advocacy and referrals.

“It’s hard to get funds for community events these days,” Ms Sitanala says. “The City of Sydney owns our building. We are very lucky to have received an accommodation grant from them.” SSCA also receives funding from the Department of Family and Community Services, as well as contract funding from Jobs Search Australia under the Work for the Dole scheme, which sees participants engaged in community research and expression. An e-publication called Voices of Waterloo features commentary on social and political issues by local residents.

Co-Worker Angelo Legaspi oversees the Work for the Dole program. “There are currently two groups, with five participants per group,” he says. “We receive referrals from employment agencies all over Sydney – then interview them, do the inductions and support the work as it happens. Voices of Waterloo is our first blog and photo gallery. We’ll soon be adding others.”

Mr Legaspi speaks of instilling a sense of community within the community. “Activities lead to friendships,” he says.

Ms Sitanala is encouraged by involvement in the Lift Redfern campaign that has led to a commitment from government to installing a commuter lift at Redfern station. She also enjoys the Welcome Dinner Project (Joining the Dots) that gathers new and established Australians – Indigenous elders, citizens, migrants and refugees – around a common table for the sharing of food and drink, stories and aspirations.

She looks forward to taking part in community events in Mental Health Month including the Go Nanas lunch at SSCA (on Friday October 23 – bring a banana as your ticket!), the Inner City Team Marbles Challenge at Northcott Community Centre in Surry Hills (on Friday October 9), and Unleash Your Creativity – a celebration of creativity and its positive effects on mental health (from 11am to 2pm, Tuesday October 6, at Redfern Community Centre).

South Sydney Community Aid, 73 Garden Street, Alexandria, is open 9.30am-4.30pm Monday-Thursday and 9.30am-12.30pm on Fridays. Free hospitality – tea, coffee and biscuits, and friendly conversation – is offered to all.

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