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technology 25 Nov 2019

Refugee Rosemary Kariuki recognized as Australia’s 2021 ‘Local Hero’ for improving women’s lives in Australia

By Waiswa Wafula

Rosemary Kariuki arrived in Sydney, Australia in 1999 after fleeing violence in Kenya and spent a year by herself without a single neighbour saying hello.

On Christmas day 2001, Rosemary longed for a sense of community and decided to take action and wrote her contact details in an invitation for tea or just to say hi on a Christmas card. She slipped the cards under the doors of her neighbours in the flat she lived in.

The reception she got was amazing and this set her on her life’s work.

When I came here, nobody gave me information. I know women love to socialize, dress up, gather while eating and dancing, so I decided to use it to bring them together to spread information and raise awareness about domestic violence,” said Rosemary, who has a smile that lights up even a Zoom screen.

At age 60, Rosemary now works at the New South Wales Police in Campbelltown on the outskirts of Sydney as a multicultural liaison officer helping migrant and refugee women.

Rosemary also runs several projects to help those who have just landed in the country overcome the isolation. Through cultural exchange programmes, she introduces refugees and migrants to the local families and a social event that brings African refugees and migrant women together.

Many women, like Rosemary herself have experienced gender-based violence and also face language, financial and cultural barriers that leave them isolated.

“It has been very challenging, but it hasn’t stopped us,” said Rosemary. “There’s a lot of mental health issues happening, and a lot of domestic violence coming out, a lot of helplessness. Most of the women have lost their jobs or they’re not doing anything at home and are falling into depression.”

In January this year, Rosemary was recognized as the country’s 2021 “local hero” by the Australian Government and won an Australian of the Year award. She urged everyone “to open their door to neighbours,” during her acceptance speech at the ceremony on Canberra.

Many of the women Rosemary works with are rebuilding their lives after experiencing trauma, including violence either at the hands of family or wars and conflict back home.

Pascasie Mudera met Rosemary on the street after she was asked why she did not have a sweater in the cold weather. Havin been a refugee in the DRC, lived in a Ugandan Refugee Camp for 3 years before resettling in Australia in 2007, Rosemary quickly befriended her and introduced her to a disability advocacy organization that provided support to her and her three kids.

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Being a young girl and alone in a refugee camp, you face a lot of challenges, starting with the abuse,” she said

Pascasie now landed a new job as a caseworker with a local non-profit organization that supports African migrants and refugees and has overcome the fear of going out and meeting new people thanks to Rosemary’s help.

Rosemary dreams of being able to pay off her mortgage and devote herself full-time to her projects supporting women. She referred to Oprah Winfrey as her role model.

“I love Oprah,” Rosemary said. “She inspires me a lot – how she overcame rape, lost her baby, but still kept going and didn’t quit. She inspires me to keep going.”

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