For a moment, I’d like you to visualise the following Venn diagram – overlap-ping circles of community mindedness, connectedness to nature, children’s bush playgroups, stories, songs and placemaking. In the very middle, you will find Maxine Marshall.
Maxine is known locally for facilitating nature-based education programs and for generally being a warm and grounded green-thumbed guru.
Born and raised in Ottawa, Canada, Maxine now lives in Korumburra, South Gippsland, with her partner Simon and their family. Both growers, Maxine and Simon were initially drawn to the region five years ago by the lush soil and rainfall. “Being able to grow our own food and being close to where our food comes from is very important to us.” Through the Green Hills Farm market garden, Maxine grows for others too; including restaurants and niche markets.”
Since moving to South Gippsland from the Baw Baw Shire earlier this year, Maxine has already laid roots, both literally and figuratively, facilitating bush playgroups in the Korumburra Botanical Gardens, as well as in Koonwarra.
“I work with children and families running nature-based playgroups; next year I will be running the gardening program at the Koonwarra Village school.”
Forming connections within the Korumburra community has led to Maxine’s involvement in some seriously important work. The Community Refugee Integration and Settlement Pilot (CRISP) program allows groups of every-day Australians to welcome refugees into their local community and help them from ‘day one’ in their Australian journey.
CRISP is a partnership with the Australian Federal Government and Community Refugee Sponsorship Australia. It enables a local group of five or more people to get involved in welcoming and supporting a refugee family as they settle in Australia. The local groups are matched with a refugee household that has been identified as in urgent need of resettlement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
The CRISP approach follows the lead of a successful Canadian community refugee sponsorship program that’s been operating since the late 1970s and has enabled more than 325,000 refugees to build a new life in Canada.
Maxine, along with Marika Sosnowski, Karen Walker, Sarah Kerwick and Laura Muranty, form the Burra Welcome Committee. Together, this collective, as sponsors, will help refugee families with accommodation and possible work opportunities, as well as organise bank accounts, Medicare and schools and coordinate fundraising.
The Burra Welcome Committee shares skills across social work, education and academia, as well as previous work with Syrian refugees and firsthand experience visiting Syrian refugee camps.
“We are looking to welcome the Syrian family in February or March next year,” Maxine
explains. “At the moment we are still looking for accommodation for the family: temporary and longer term.”
I asked Maxine how the immediate neighbourhood can help the Burra Welcome Committee in settling a new family in the town. "Once we find them accommodation, we will be looking for donations for furniture and household goods to get them settled, as well as any possible work opportunities for the family.”
There is also an opportunity for the broader Gippsland community to contribute to this program. “At the moment we are raising funds to be able to financially support the family when they arrive, providing them with their first three-to-six months of rent and living expenses,” explains Maxine. “We have set up a fundraising page via Shout For Good [details below]. All the money raised will go into their costs of living, as well as assisting them to look for work and have their children join local schools.”
As an advocate of place and community connectedness in Gippsland, Maxine’s involvement in the Burra Welcome Committee comes as no surprise. When asked why this kind of work is important to her, Maxine responds, “I think it's important to think bigger than our own backyards. I believe we all have a lot to give and offer as a community.”
If you’re interested in helping the new Syrian family settle in Korumburra, please email Maxine at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can donate directly at shoutforgood.com/fundraisers/burrawelcomecommittee.
For more info about the Community Sponsorship Program, including setting up a CRISP group in your community, please visit refugeesponsorship.org.au.
Head to @shelleybanders for more work by the talented writer, Shelley Banders
Gippslandia - Issue No. 25
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