Jean-Marie Uwihoreye has a passion for compassion
A Murray Bridge community leader believes Australia could learn a thing or two from African approaches to long-term disadvantage.
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Could Australia learn something from Africa when it comes to helping some of our society’s most disadvantaged people?
Murray Bridge community leader Jean-Marie Uwihoreye thinks so.
In the countries where he had lived, he said, anyone who experienced long-term unemployment or homelessness, or who was struggling with alcohol or drugs, would be taken away to a training centre to complete an apprenticeship as part of a team.
“When they come back, they will know what to do in their life,” he said.
“You say ‘what do you want to do in your life?’
“He says ‘I want to learn to be a mechanic’, so you take him to a mechanic and he learns with that team.”
Here, too many employment programs – mutual obligations, Services Australia calls them – didn’t help people contribute to the community, he said.
“Taking people one by one is not going to work,” he said.
“It’s not going to work like that.”
He’s not the only local person keen on taking a new approach to long-term disadvantage.
Employment facilitator Christine Willersdorf used to run a program called Jobs 4 Murraylands, which helped long-term unemployed people realise their potential not only by giving them qualifications, but helping them get fitter and healthier.
Job seekers needed skills and motivation, she said at the time, not blame for the situation they found themselves in.
Former Bridgeport Hotel general manager Mary-Lou Corcoran paid future employees to train for weeks before the refurbished pub ever opened its doors last year.
Peter Sawley is the driving force – pun intended – behind a volunteer program called L2P, which helps young people get their licences.
And the likes of Janet Emmins have advocated tirelessly for an increase to the rate of government payments which would lift people out of poverty, reducing local rates of crime, homelessness and mental illness.
‘When I get hope, I use it for others’
Mr Uwihoreye hoped to use a Facebook page he created under the name Gira Impuhwe – a Kinyarwanda phrase meaning “compassion” – to advocate for people and promote positive thinking: “to be a voice for humanity”, as he put it.
“I can’t leave it like that when humanity is suffering,” he said.
“I get people saying ... ‘to help someone when you’re not getting paid is too hard’.
“You can give a fish to someone, but to teach them how to catch them up, that’s my dream.”
Mr Uwihoreye works as a security guard in Murray Bridge, but has also become something of a community leader, having organised an event for local African migrants in December.
He worked with Red Cross and other humanitarian organisations during the years he spent as a refugee, after fleeing his homeland of Rwanda.
“When I was in trouble, when I didn’t have anywhere to stay, didn’t have anything to do; when I get hope, I use it for others,” he said.
He tapped his chest with the palm of his hand: “to help – compassion”.
More information: Search for Gira Impuhwe on Facebook.
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