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Parish lifeline for struggling students

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International students who are struggling to make ends meet during COVID are being given a lifeline through a new program initiated by the Adelaide Cathedral parish.

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Working in partnership with the Vinnies Adelaide Conference and St Vincent de Paul Society’s State Office, the parish community is providing aid to self-sponsored international students who find themselves in dire need and ineligible to access JobSeeker or Centrelink payments from the Government.

Through the program, the students are being supported with rent payments, Vinnies vouchers for clothing, Foodbank vouchers and financial aid to pay bills such as electricity, gas and water, as well as receiving referrals for employment opportunities where possible.

Parish Administrator Fr Anthoni Adimai SdM said he felt called to do something after several international students spoke to him about their plight after Mass.

“I could feel the stress in them,” he said. “Some had lost their employment and for others their families were struggling back home. Some are married and their kids and family are not here.”

Fr Adimai spoke with the Parish Council and Finance Council who agreed something had to be done and then called in the assistance of Vinnies.

“As a parish we are committed to do as much as possible,” he said.

Coordinating the program is Ruthy Chileshe from the Vinnies chapter and a parishioner at the Cathedral. She explained that most of the students who have been assisted are studying a degree or Masters course at university. Prior to the pandemic they were relying on small jobs, often in the hospitality industry, to support themselves.

“But as a result of COVID they lost their jobs. Others were supported by their families at home,  but now they can no longer support them,” she said.

“They still have to pay their university fees so they have to decide between the little money they have reserved for their studies – or paying their rent, or a bill, or food.”

Ms Chileshe said some of the students were quite young and had arrived in Adelaide only a few days before the shutdowns started in March. Others were older and here with their families – with one studying while the other may have had a job, and they had children to support.

“Listening to their stories I think it’s really tough on them because they can’t get help from the Government. I hear some sad stories and it’s always useful to have a box of tissues ready,” Ms Chileshe said.

“There is a lot of need and it’s not always obvious that people are suffering. Some are too embarrassed to ask for help.

“Foodbank has been a saviour for many of them. Others are going to Vinnies and the Salvos for help.”

Ms Chileshe said students were also encouraged to also seek assistance from the universities they were attending and added that the parish program was available to any international student who was struggling, regardless of religious beliefs.

“We’re here to help everyone and anyone in need,” she said.

Money raised through Church appeals and donations to the Poor Box, as well as funds from Vinnies’ Emergency Relief Fund are helping to fund the program.

Ms Chileshe said she did have concerns about the mental wellbeing of some of the students.

“You see it in their faces, the withdrawal in them because it feels hopeless, but you also see the light in their eyes when you offer to help, they are very grateful.

“They want to stay to finish their studies and are very resilient.

“They hope things will be better next year.”

Fr Adimai said the Cathedral parish, in conjunction with The Monastery, was also planning to assist at least 50 international students who would be separated from their family at Christmas with additional food vouchers.

“This is a special time of the year and after the difficulties due to the pandemic we hope this will help them to celebrate Christmas,” he said.

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