Zainab attends the Settlement Services Expo (March 2015)

In early March this year, I had the opportunity of attending the Settlement Services Expo run by the Department of Social Services. The expo showcased non-governmental organisations that offer settlement services for refugees and migrants arriving to Australia. Amongst the participants were MercyCare, Communicare, Edmund Rice Centre, Assetts, Save the Children, Ishar and the Metro Migrant Resource Centre.

Being involved with the Halal Food Bank – Perth (HFB), a project that provides assistance via monthly boxes of non-perishable food items, I learned a lot through the expo. What stood out to me was how so many organisations thrive in such a complementary existence to one another. From providing the services of education and mentoring, housing and accommodation, health and wellbeing as well as employment assistance programs, all resembled pieces of a puzzle that fit together perfectly in the grand scheme of the Australian welfare system.

Having these organisations together on the day exemplified the importance of partnership and collaboration. With funding limitations set by the government for the next couple of years, cementing partnerships and encouraging collaboration increases the quality and efficiency of welfare services – services that are critical for the vulnerable and marginalised in our society. Something that really stuck with me was when one of the attendees mentioned that 5 out of the 9 billionaires in Australia came here as refugees.

I just thought to myself, can we really ignore the refugee crisis at our doorstep? Not just because of the economic imperative, but who knows what someone is capable of achieving given the right circumstances? Services provided today are enabling a better future for not just the person, but the entire community.

However, coming from the HFB, which works to address the risk factor of food security, it was interesting to note that this particular subject was not brought up during the expo. Food security is defined by the Food and Agriculture Organisation, as “all people having access to safe and nutritious food at all times”– something that many worldwide, as well as right here in Perth, simply do not have.

While related to the other topics presented this immediate risk factor, constantly growing in demand and having welfare agencies turning people away due to a lack of resources, was sadly not given its due time in the open forum.

I believe there is a dire need for dialogue and education when it comes to food security in Australia. Personally, many of the people that I have encountered while working with the HFB have expressed astonishment that there is even a need for food banks in a country perceived to be so affluent. Citing things such as Centrelink and creating comparisons with impoverished nations overseas that are highly publicised in our media, a lot of disbelief still surrounds the fact that many Australians live day-to-day without any idea of when the next meal will come.

There are three key components of food insecurity: inadequate access to food, inadequate supply and the inappropriate use of food (e.g., inappropriate preperation of food). The prevalence of food insecurity amongst the Australian population is estimated at 5% (Burns, 2004).

“Food insecurity in Australia: What is it, who experiences it and how can child and family services support families experiencing it?”
Kate Rosier, August 2011 [Weblink]

The topic is far from being black and white. Food insecurity is increased amongst renters, single parent and bigger households, with factors such as the rising cost of housing and living and the inability to secure a stable income leading to financial problems that, unfortunately, often become long-term. Living with food insecurity is highly subjective – particular to every person and family, creating varying shades of grey painting the picture of what it looks like to be an Australian living in poverty.

Volunteering with the HFB, it’s a constant reminder that the necessity still exists. Consistently, every month I witness volunteers from all over Perth gather to stack shelves, pack and deliver boxes to the service agencies we collaborate with for distribution. And while the provision of these boxes works only as short-term assistance and doesn’t directly address many of the underlying problems that lead to food insecurity, I am optimistic that there are solutions under the guise of partnership, collaboration and unity between service organisations: a reality exemplified at the Settlement Services Expo.

About the Author: Zainab is a long standing volunteer with the Halal Food Bank – Perth project. She has recently graduated with a Masters in Public Health from UWA where she used to manage a collection point for HFB. Zainab is currently working for the Cancer Council.