Established in 1988 STARRTS provides culturally appropriate psychological treatment, support, and community interventions to support people and communities ‘heal the scars of torture’.
With over 87,377 individuals assisted since 1988, STARTTS supports people from over 174 countries of origin.
For Amira and Deb, their connection has been strong since Deb, a Counsellor at STARTTS, first trained in the Seasons for Growth program 5 years ago. Running 4 groups a year together in a school for students where English is their second language, with only a short break during the pandemic lockdowns, they have spent considerable time in a unique and privileged space together with young people as they reflect on their journey through the groups.
Amira is the interpreter in the groups, and holds firmly onto this boundary in her role, however in such a personal setting and being the first person to receive the information in conversation with students, it is quite different to the general interpreting roles that make up the other work hours in her week. The strong rapport between Deb and Amira ensures that the language barrier between Deb and the young people is bridged in a way that does not detract from a group's personal nature.
Alongside Amira’s interpretation of the spoken language – Arabic to English and return, non-verbal cues and tone of voice are vital in Deb understanding when Amira is ‘holding space’ for a young person. There are often tears in the groups, so this is especially important; the longevity of their working relationship has allowed for this ‘fine tuning.’ Supporting young people to feel heard is one of the most important aspects and offerings of the program.
The ease of their relationship assists group members to feel comfortable as despite the language differences they can enjoy banter and clearly feel the respect and trust between the adults in the room. Group members speak to Amira, and she translates ‘word for word.’ For Deb, the quality relationship with any interpreter, particularly when working with young people with complex experiences is imperative in providing a safe space where students can be themselves as they acknowledge and navigate the many changes and losses that they have experienced.
At the end of 2022, Amira attended the Seasons for Growth training in Southwest Sydney. Amira has never seen her role as ‘just passing information’ but the training enabled her to consolidate the knowledge that she had experienced within the many groups.
Seasons for Growth is embedded into the school, the Deputy Principal introduces students to the program, and word of mouth over the years has led to a waiting list with no shortage of young people wanting to get involved. Deb and Amira set the scene at the first session, and once the group has finished, they all enjoy a trip to celebrate the completion into the city to share a meal. The precious memories of the group recorded for each person by Deb in a book that they can keep as they move forward with their toolkit and hearts full of all that the group has provided.
When asked ‘Has the Seasons for Growth program changed you? Amira replies ‘it's amazing, I worked with STARTTS before the groups, with adults, but with children it’s different, I can honestly say it enriched my life.’ Amira goes on to say that she has heard from many of the young people attending that the groups changed their lives too. Deb will often see young people for counselling after the groups, and she and Amira hear they attended the program and how it has improved their life. They then tell other students too and they want to sign up.
The groups follow a pattern, the first session no one looks at each other, and often by session 3 the stories and the tears flow as the group becomes a ‘safe space’ where young people have the dedicated listening ears of Deb and Amira. ‘They hear a story from someone else and know it’s not just them.’
The mutual respect and fondness between Amira and Deb is clear, as is their commitment to providing the Seasons for Growth program for the young people with refugee experience and all that may bring.
Thank you to the Southwestern Sydney PHN (Primary Health Network) for providing the funding which allowed Amira and colleagues from STARTTS to train in the programs.