Women from Afghanistan, Myanmar and Syria are now settling in the regional Australian communities. While adjustment to a new life can be difficult, it is possible to feel a sense of belonging.

Creative arts are a great way to improve well-being and social connections for those who have suffered trauma, such as women from refugee families. Through creativity, we can also build bridges and address fears of refugees as well as communities surrounding refugee settlement.

Our recent study examined the experiences of refugee-migrant women living in regional Australia. They shared their art in community art shows. As newcomers adjust to their new lives, we wanted to find out about the many benefits that engaging in creative art can bring.

Anglicare Northcoast’s Three Es to Freedom program was the research partner. It aimed to foster community connections to improve social inclusion and personal goals. The program was establish in 2016 and has helped 142 women from 36 different countries. The creative component of the program saw women participate in workshops with artists from the local community, allowing them to develop and hone their existing skills. Women displayed stories, textiles, and installations at exhibitions in Coffs Harbour, Lismore, northern NSW, and on the Gold Coast.

Enhancing Confidence And Well-Being Communities

It is well-known that creative arts practice can have a therapeutic effect, particularly for refugees. For those who have suffered trauma, art can be a way to express and advocate for oneself, and it can also promote positive feelings.

When the women thought about what sewing, painting, and drawing offer them, they were inspire by these positive experiences. One woman share with us that creativity had gotten me out of my depression and it’s given to me love.

They created intricate, circular textile works that told stories about their childhood. The women created a story cloth, a collection of textiles that they used to paint symbols representing their own personal journeys. To show their resilience, they also created a large feather installation with inspirational words such as strong or free.

Increase The Enjoyment

It’s not just about the creative process. It was a way to increase the enjoyment of women by sharing experiences. One participant stated. Sometimes, even if you don’t feel happy, it can help you. You go to group. You leave the group feeling happy and relieved. They supported one another, learned about each other’s cultures, and shared their knowledge with each other.

The women were able to use their existing skills, learn new skills, and gain confidence. They then sold their work at local markets and opened pop-up shops. One woman was known for her exceptional dressmaking skills, and she started her own business. Women who were previously denied employment opportunities by their male counterparts saw these new initiatives as a step forward.

Professional photographers were also hired to photograph the women as they created their own work. The women were photograph in traditional clothing, while others enjoyed themselves in the community gardens. One woman shared her story with us. They were indeed beautiful. Although it looks shy to me, I was happy to see the changes in the photos.

Being Heard Communities

The public-facing exhibit was another important aspect of the project. The women felt empower and encourage to achieve their goals by the fact that people were interest in their lives and cultures. One woman said it.

It was a great feeling to see so many people come. My story, which is my childhood story, and my unforgettable memories, makes me very happy. It allows me to share my traditions with others so that they can get to know my country. Participants wrote messages to the women using paper birds and put them up on the walls.

Commonly, you will find the words welcome or friendship, as well as drawings and love hearts and peace doves. The conversation between artists and visitors was a bridge between migrants in their new community. One participant stated that the positive comments made by visitors made us feel like the community was open for us.