The Uighur community finds life

Advocate: Zulfia Erk. Picture: Simon Bennett
Advocate: Zulfia Erk. Picture: Simon Bennett

Zulfia Erk used to answer a question with a question when asked about where she comes from.

"I used to ask do you have five minutes? I had to explain a lot," she said.

"Now I don't have to as much. The Uighur community is starting to gain more attention."

Ms Erk was a guest speaker at the recent Communities in Cultural Transition (CiCT) forum at Fairfield RSL.

The NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS) program has assisted in the development of more than 150 newly arrived and emerging refugee communities/groups.

The Uighur ("wee-gur") community is one those STARTTS is assisting after political unrest in their home country with the Chinese government's detention of Muslims in the Xinjiang region.

Ms Erk, who has five brothers locked up in detention camps in northwest China, came to Australia 11 years ago and was facing isolation, uncertainty and depression.

She wasn't the only one. It's why through her job as a Linker at Settlement Services International and Ability Links NSW she has made it her mission to support the 800-plus members of the Sydney Uighur community who live primarily in Fairfield, Liverpool and Auburn with services like STARTTS and the SSI Community Kitchen.

Her main goal is to break down barriers and provide support to those who need it the most.

"When I first came to Australia it was tough getting to know the society, the system and to get a job," the Casula resident said.

"A lot of people in our community have experienced anxiety, grief, loss and trauma so it's important we come together and share our stories."

A key part of that was the Uyghur Cultural Day held earlier this year which highlighted different elements of their cultural including dance and food.

STARTTS Senior Family Councillor and Projects officer Vanessa Galbraith-Marten said they have worked with the Uighur community in support of their strengths.

"Last year we reached out to hear from the community to see how they were going and to see what they needed which led to women's group that provided psycho education about the trauma that they might be going through," she said.

"We also helped find a premises for one of their two language schools."

The 1000-year-old sounds of the Uyghur people led by master dutar player Shohrat Tursun were part of the entertainment as the Carramar-based STARTTS celebrated its 30th anniversary on Friday at the Imperial Paradiso.

Since late 1988, the service has helped those that have survived experiences of torture and trauma prior to being forced to leave their homelands in search of safety.

STARTTS CEO Jorge Aroche said from it early days delivering services from a residential house in suburban Fairfield, it has become a state-wide service with more than 200 staff and offices throughout Sydney and in five locations in rural and regional NSW.

"Over the 30 years of our existence, STARTTS has developed a wide range of programs to assist trauma survivors to rebuild their lives in a new country. Our services have helped almost 70,000 people over that time," he said.

 Bita Jayzan speaking at the STARTTS anniversary.

Bita Jayzan speaking at the STARTTS anniversary.

One of those that is has helped is Bita Jayzan.

Bita, who as a result of religious persecution Bita left Iran with her younger brother, came to Australia by boat from Indonesia in 2000.

In the years that followed Bita built a new life in Australia, marrying and having children, studying and becoming a leading figure in the Mandaean Community to support young children and their families who have experienced trauma.

She attended the Families in Cultural Transition (FICT) program at STARTTS and was inspired to commence the Mini Mandie playgroup for pre-school aged Mandaean children together with STARTTS early childhood counsellors.

Bita also founded the Mandaean women and children committee for the Sabian Mandaean Association in 2014.

"I was inspired to start a playgroup. I have seen that small things can make a huge difference to improve the life of a child that has experienced trauma," said Bita, who lives with a vision impairment and has been determined to educate her community and others of the importance of seeing her and others living with a disability for their many skills and abilities.