79 Langhorne Street, Dandenong, VIC 3175 administration@wellspringsforwomen.com (03) 9701 3740

Know My Story


Copies of the book Know My Story are now available for sale

cost : $25

Postage: $7.00

To order your copy call us on 03 9701 3740 or email: jasmine@wellspringsforwomen.com

Migrant Women Changing the Cultural Landscape of Greater Dandenong

Leila Ashtiani – Born in Iran

Leila’s arrival in Australia, in 2013, will forever be associated with
the loss at sea of more than 80 lives including mothers and children,
who drowned when the asylum seeker boat that Leila and her family
boarded in pursuit of basic human rights, sank 50 metres off the
Indonesian shore. Leila’s story is a living testament to the power of healing, enrichment
and, sustenance that art can bring. Leila is an art graduate of Al-Zahra
University in Tehran, where after graduating she was appointed
Director for Arts and Culture at the Tehran City Council. Her
multidisciplinary arts practice includes painting, sculpture, and mural
art. She has managed her own contemporary art gallery and exhibited
in Tehran, Dubai, and Turkey. In Iran, Art was Leila’s life but there were severe restrictions on what
she could paint. When asked her reason for leaving, she explains:
what led my family to make the difficult decision to leave the country
of my birth in pursuing basic human rights? The absence of
entitlement, to have the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and
religion (Zoroastrian faith), and the lack of freedom to express political
and social issues through my artwork. We left all our family and
friends, memories, and belongings, behind. The journey we began,
was an uncertain path in which we could not distinguish any truth
from the lies within. We were in the sea for 28-hours when water started to get inside the
boat, forcing us all to continuously empty the water from the boat for
15-hours before an Australian Navy Ship sailed past us, and refused
to come to our rescue. I heard the families’ cry in despair, saying farewells to loved ones,
begging for forgiveness from their innocent children. Determined to
do whatever it takes to save my son I began telling myself to stay
strong and stay alive, as I grabbed my scarf and tied my son to my
waist and put the small inflatable swim ring I had with me, around us,
with my husband holding on to the side we threw ourselves into the
ocean, while the boat began to capsize in a terrible, slow roll with
people trapped inside, sinking to the deep. Now I am standing here feeling the warmth of scrunching sand in my feet as I walk along the beach, with a world of heartache, anguish,
and unbelievable events, nine years behind me since I began this journey.
Leila’s contributions in Dandenong, include site-specific ‘Public Art’
work (Paintings and Mural) commissioned by Wellsprings for
Women. From 2017 to 2021, she taught drawing, painting, and pottery classes,
at Brand New Day community Centre. From 2014 to 2020, she was volunteer and Art Teacher at Mafa
(Melbourne Artist for Asylum Seekers). And at Space2b Group in St

Zakia Baig – Born in Pakistan
Zakia arrived in Australia in 2006. One among the thousands of
Hazaras who left their homes to escape persecution in Pakistan. As
tensions in Quetta built and the Hazara community was exposed to
more and more violence, Zakia and her husband took the difficult
decision to send Zakia to Australia on a skilled migrant visa. She
arrived alone; her children joined her a few months later, and her
husband arrived six years later.
A mother of two, Zakia is a fierce advocate for humanity in the
treatment of asylum seekers in Australia and in offshore detention. To
that end, she took her cause to the United Nations Assembly. But in
Dandenong, she is best known for her work with refugee and asylum
seeker communities, and more specifically for having founded the
Australian Hazara Women’s Friendship Network (AHWFN).
“So, I came here and tried to make my way” says Zakia. “The culture
here is completely opposite to what I had known. It’s about
individuality, finding yourself, pursuing your own dreams. I was
overwhelmed by this for a couple of years, but it was liberating! It felt
like I had come out of a box – and I started AHWFN to show that
women should be an equal part of society, alongside men, but in
Australia, Hazara women are even more behind than they were in
their own countries. My vision was always to show that if I could do
it, they could do it too”. ‘Empowerment’ looks very different for
different people. For some, it may mean finding meaningful work. For
others, it may mean getting to grips with Melbourne’s public
transport system. Zakia is also an advocate and fundraiser for girls
education in the mountains of Afghanistan, away from control of the

Hayat Doughan – Born in Lebanon
Hayat reflects- I left my beloved country Lebanon, in 1981, because
of the civil war, and came to seek safety and a better life in Australia.
The changes in my life were significant. I was a primary school
teacher and a university student learning French literature, and in
Australia my prior qualifications were not recognized, and I couldn’t
My husband who was an accountant worked in a factory and later he
had a back injury and couldn’t work for 15 years. Life was hard for
me, no family and no support and I had to be strong for my kids and
forgot who Hayat was, and what she needed.
After the age of 50 I started doing volunteer work and established a
women’s group to support migrant women to have a better experience
than mine.
I studied social work, and I worked in settlement, case management,
family violence prevention and currently I am working with carers
from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse backgrounds.
It makes me happy to see women in my community who look up to
me and decide to go back to study and work after being living at
home in social isolation and feeling depressed and worthless.
Larra Juab – Born in the Philippines
Larra was born in a Catholic family, and together with her mother and
three brothers, came to Australia in 2011, to join her father who had
already been here for five years.
Larra explains- I moved here shortly after I turned 14. It
was never an interest of my father for us to move here, but
my mother convinced him, and they both saw that our lives
could be better here than back home. Growing up, our
family didn’t really get to spend a lot of time living together
because both my parents were always working in different
cities, and the move to Australia, was a first for the whole
family to be living under the same roof, the whole time.
While there was profound sadness in leaving behind everyone that
had enriched my life up till then, in Australia, as a queer woman, I
was afforded a sense of freedom- Traditional gender roles in the
Philippines are still highly upheld. Women are very domesticated,
compared to women here who have a sense of independence and
liberation. Most especially, when you are a queer woman like myself,
it was quite hard to navigate. Most people back home would
encourage their daughters to marry a rich man so that they are lifted
from poverty, always obeying, or following the rules of the church.
While here, we are able to follow our pathway and the pressures of
being a woman, or a mother isn’t forced upon you that much.
As a Queer multidisciplinary artist (painting, sculptures prints,
and spoken word poetry), Larra balances her private practice
with tertiary studies (Bachelor of Visual Arts and Design at
Australian Catholic University); while at the same time, she
contributes to the City of Greater Dandenong by managing the
Community Art Space (CAS)- A not for profit arts
organisation. She also takes on other local projects, including,
being Producer for Multicultural Arts Victoria (MAV) – for
events and programs that MAV delivers in the City of Greater
Dandenong for the “In Situ” project. And she looks after a
Heritage site that assists the local community through venues
hire and community gallery.
Liseby Lapierre- Born in Mauritius
Liseby grew up bilingual. From primary school up she studied in
English, because it was the language used by the Government’s
bureaucracy. But at home she spoke French Creole, the vernacular
language of Mauritius.
When she came to Australia, in 1970, Liseby was already qualified as
a teacher. But her qualification was not recognised in Australia. So,
she decided to return to tertiary studies and retrained in the field of
She put her newly acquired skills to good use when the opportunity to
work for ‘Playgroup Victoria’, in a leadership position in a new
venture with the City of Greater Dandenong, came up. Liseby was
instrumental in establishing & coordinating ‘Play-Spot’, a free mobile
playgroup with a focus on reaching isolated new migrant
families with young children.
Liseby has volunteered for a wide range of community organisations
including, Wellsprings for women, and the ‘Women Friendship Café.
She has freely contributed to projects seeded by (the late), Joyce
Rebeiro; Spirituality in the Pub (SIP), and the Interfaith Network.

In 2023, Liseby continues to share the week with her young
granddaughter while at the same time, she is working as exam
supervisor. And when time allows, she continues to support
individuals and community organisations in practical ways.
Joyce Rebeiro (Defunct) – Born in Calcutta, India.
Joyce and her brother Eugene, came to Australia, in 1968. They first
lived in Springvale, where from the very beginning Joyce
involved herself with the local community, including her church
community. But to quote someone who knew her well, ‘Joyce never
let her Catholic faith, get in the way of the community good’.
Someone described Joyce as a ‘socio-cultural shapeshifter across
cultures, across religions, across class/across gender/ across social
boundaries,’ both within and outside of Australia.
Joyce’s first position in the workforce was in pursuit of social justice for some
of the most disadvantaged in India, the refugees, and migrants from Bangladesh.
Her commitment to the empowerment of those at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder is the recurring theme throughout her life.
Joyce’s interest in the welfare and settlement of migrants and refugees in
Australia, led her to work at the Ecumenical Migration Centre, an organisation
established to assist migrant communities, and at The Australian Institute of
Multicultural Affairs which had been set up to lead research into and advocate
for multiculturalism.
Prior work experience combined with further studies enabled Joyce
to be the first Equity and Access Officer in the City of Greater
Dandenong, where she engaged with community activism, and was
instrumental in establishing new networks and new services in the
Joyce also pioneered the establishment of Spirituality in the Pub
(SIP), the Interfaith Network, and she was the one of drivers behind
the establishment of the Springvale Cultural Hub.

The desperate need for Disaster Relief in many troubled parts of the world was
well known to Joyce from her earlier work with the Red Cross. Among her
many dangerous ventures include visiting refugee camps in Somalia and getting
a firsthand understanding of the precarious situation in the newly independent
Maria Sampey – Born in Italy
Maria was seven years old when together with her mother, came to
Australia, in 1956, to reunite with her father who was already here.
Maria’s experiences as an immigrant child were forged at primary
school. She remembers- Being Italian, I’d have salami in my
sandwiches for lunch at school. Because of its pungent aroma, the
Australian children continually teased me & called me a “Wog”. It
was very hard!
In those days, Italian migrants went out of their way to make
themselves acceptable to mainstream Australians of Anglo-Celtic
background. Maria’s explains -My birth name is “Bianchina Maria”
but because Australians couldn’t pronounce “Bianchina”, properly, I
went by my middle name, ‘Maria.’ Then anglicised ‘Maria’ to Mary.
But once I completed High School, I changed it back to Maria as I
was proud of my heritage and who I was.
In her second year of high school, Maria’s father told her, “I’ve put
you through school for eight years now you must work for me for
eight years.” Her first daytime job after being withdrawn from school
was sewing at the Holeproof hosiery factory, but because she wanted
to get out of factory work, she also walked long distances to attended
night school to learn shorthand and typing, and this enabled her to get
a job in a solicitor’s office, administering wills and accident
compensation claims.
In 1966, after her father abandoned the family and returned to Italy,
Maria’s mother tried to get a bank loan to buy a house for her family.
Of course in those days, no bank would lend money to a female. But
as luck would have, the vendors who were a Christian family,
allowed Maria and her mother, to buy the house on vendor terms,
which meant paying off the vendor for the purchase price, in
Once married with young children, Maria found it very rewarding
working as a teacher’s aide to teach typing to predominantly Asian
students, in Springvale.
In 2000, Maria was elected as councillor in the City of Greater
Dandenong, where over the next 20 years, she was re-elected six
times. And was elected Mayor, in 2005. Among her achievements as
councillor, includes working with: Government representative to
establish holidays and after school programs for children with autism.
Working with the disability committee to improve wheelchair access
around the city. And working with the positive aging committee, to
establish community transport and other services for senior citizens.
Appalled at the way her 99-year-old mother with dementia, was being
treated in various nursing homes, in 2021, Maria took her mother
back home, where with additional support she cared for, 24 hours a
day, till her mother died, in 2022, at 100 years of age. And in 2023,
she continues advocating for improvements in the way the elderly are
treated in aged care.

Sri Samy- Born inIndia
FEELINGS of isolation and loneliness form a common theme in the
stories of most new migrants.
I was no different. I came to Australia from Tamil Nadu, India after
an arranged marriage. The only person I knew here was my husband.
I felt excitement at my new life, but it was also tinged with loss,
having left behind all my friends and family. I missed them so much
in those early years, but what saved me from despair was being lucky
enough to get a job at my first interview. I am a trained architect, and
I was working in this field not long after arriving in Australia.

Soon enough, I was too busy to think much about being so far away
from my family and friends.
Tragedy struck five years later when my husband and I lost our firstborn son at birth, as well as both our fathers, within a matter of
months. The next year the world became a better place for us when
our only – and beautiful – daughter, Krisha Samy, was born. Health
issues around my daughter forced me to take another turn in life.
Unable to focus on work because of the time it took to caring for her,
I decided to focus on the family.
I also became involved in community work supporting migrant and
refugee women as I was able to relate to their struggles while also
trying to set up my home-based business. Through my experiences I
came to realise that we have to live our life to the fullest and do our
best to add value to other people’s lives. Some people may sometimes
just need a hug or a smile. My experience in life and work in the
community has made me understand the common phrase “a
community is only as strong as its weakest link”.
I volunteered at Victorian Immigrant and Refugee Women’s
Coalition, Tamil Refugee Council and the then Dandenong
Community Aid Bureau, joining their board later and then at
Southeast Community Links after the merger with SCAAB. I used my
IT skills to help these organisations. I taught computer skills and
English language skills to refugees, and facilitate leadership courses
for women.
From late 2012, I became aware of people seeking asylum living with
the bare minimum of material goods, and sometimes without enough
food or furniture in their homes. So, I did my best to help people
seeking asylum and refugees by delivering food and furniture while
raising awareness about the plight of refugees and the reason they are
here — persecution in their homeland. This led to the formation of
Friends of Refugees, which is now a medium sized charity based in
Springvale providing emergency relief, food aid, material aid,
employment programs, English language classes and children’s
It sounds like a lot to take on, and at times it can be hard work as I
work 7 days a week most of the time. But it is also fulfilling to be able
to give people a helping hand and help them get over those familiar
feelings of isolation and helplessness and being a friend when in need.

Mmaskepe Sejoe – Born in Botswana
Mmaskepe was born into a large extended family when Botswana was
still under British colonial rule.
Culturally, her first cousins were counted as her parents’ children, as
Mmaskepe proudly explains: I look back at my childhood with
affection. I was the youngest of them all, and as my siblings were
either off working or in boarding school, I felt very much alone
during my early life. But I drew strength from my ethnic group, the
BaKgatla (Monkey Totem), well known in Botswana and South Africa
for being forthright, blunt, often in very colourful language.
Mmaskepe explains – I came to understand the importance of
solidarity and Human Rights from an early age- Our home was a
haven for “politically displaced souls” from across the world. Even
as a child I knew never to ask people staying with us why they had left
their home.
The critical lesson for me was that displaced people cannot be
categorised by economic parameters. And the current narrative in
Australia of denying people protection because they are “economic”
refugees could not be falser, if not arrogant.
I arrived in Australia on a rainy wintery day on July 19th, 1987. A
decision to leave your home is never an easy one. In my case, it was
instigated by the aggression from Rhodesia and South Africa who
were killing civilians in Botswana and other neighbouring countries,
with impunity. When people ask me who and what did I leave behind?
My most valuable possession was my commitment to Social Justice; I
could never trade it for anything. So, I often say that I left my life.
At university I obtained a degree in Science Education. And once
settled in Melbourne, I applied to both the Public and Private School
Registration Boards. Never heard back from the public-school board,
but I quickly got the certificate from the private school board.
In trying to grasp the thinking of the ‘powers that be”, I realised that
there was zero understanding about the circumstances that made
people wanting to come to Australia, and unfortunately sometimes, it
brought out the worst of human nature. I agitated enough, until
funding was found to carry out research on settlement of people of
African descent. Also, I agitated for a gender lens into the support
given. This led to my interest in the ‘Women at Risk UNHCR
I started a conversation with Social Planners from the City of
Greater Dandenong, to ensure that the Community Engagement
program took into account the women’s capabilities, and resilience.
That led me directly into the politics of Human Rights Culture and
racialized service delivery, which I put into practice by regularly
engaging with women in the Southern Region, to explore options to
improve sexual and reproductive health access.
Much later I got involved with advocating for families, collaborating
with Victoria Police in working with young people and involving
some of them in a human rights video on community engagement and
human rights. Since then I have continued to engage communities
with education and information activities on Human Rights and
Accountability, including the program on “Making a Difference”, a
program seeking to build a human rights culture as well as building
resilience in the context of the community.
And I assisted Wellsprings for Women, to Develop Training resources
on Prevention of Gender Based Violence/Family Violence through a
Human Rights lens.
Su Sullivan, Born in Nakhonsrithammarat (the place with the
longest name) in Thailand.
It was in her hometown that Su met her Australian husband. They
were working for the same company; she as Human Resource Officer
and he, as English language teacher.
Before coming to Australia in 2001, Su had already
gained university degrees in nursing and in psychology. But
none of her tertiary qualifications, nor her work experience,
were recognised in Australia. She says: Love forced me to
separate from my family and friends, who remained in Thailand.
Settling in Australia was not easy. I had to start everything
again, from zero. I lost not just my family, friends, work, lovely
plants, pets, and belongings that I left behind, but lost the most
important thing, my whole identity. I lost my whole ME that I
had built throughout my life. So, wanting to gain local
experience and improve her English, Su started volunteering at
the primary school her children went to and got involved in
community projects. There she met other socially needy
mothers, and she decided to return to study to qualify as
a psychologist. A devout Buddhist, Su, now applies the skills
she gained through volunteering and tertiary studies, to counsel
and support women experiencing domestic violence.
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