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RefugeE cultivating community in Adelaide

Muhama Yotham fled Burundi as a refugee and lived in a refugee camp in Tanzania before settling in Adelaide, Australia, 15 years ago.

Within a week of arriving, he started volunteering at the local migrant resource centre. Within the second week, he joined an English language training program and continued to volunteer. In his second year, he commenced a Bachelor of Business Administration.

Muhama continued to contribute to the community through public roles including president of the Burundian Community Association South Australia, board member of the Refugee Council of Australia, and general secretary of the African Communities Council, amongst others.

With a wife and three children, as well as working full time, life is certainly busy, but Muhama maintains his commitment to cultivating strong, diverse and welcoming communities.

He is the co-founder and chairperson of Amazing Northern Multicultural Services in northern Adelaide, a social welfare organisation providing early intervention programs to new and emerging communities to develop coping skills and resilience.

“I wanted to bring people together and support them,” said Muhama. “We wanted to create something that was started and owned by people with the experience of being a refugee and who wanted to use their experience to help others.”

One of the organisation’s projects is a thriving community garden.

“The primary focus is to grow things which are not available here,’’ said Muhama. ‘’We grow maize, rosella, African eggplants, a special type of chilli… The types of foods that make you think, ‘Yes, I am home – I am missing nothing – this is a welcoming place.’ ’’

Harvesting maize at the Amazing Northern Multicultural Services community garden
Harvesting maize at the Amazing Northern Multicultural Services community garden

HOST International’s Emerging Communities Incubator program in Adelaide has been working with Muhama and his team at Amazing Northern Multicultural Services (ANMS) to develop their program.

‘’ANMS is still a small organisation. When we met Cathy [Lawson, HOST Adelaide Program Manager] and the team over a year ago, we did not have employees – it was a very big challenge to move from volunteering to employees.

‘’HOST supported us to move into another level where we were able to recruit and employ people and make sure we had good governance, including policies and insurances. We started with three employees, and we just added another last week, and we are now in the process of recruiting a centre coordinator. We are now confident in our ability to move forward.”

HOST Adelaide Program Manager Cathy Lawson says, “The purpose of the program is to upskill and empower new and emerging community groups and leaders to support their communities. We are led by the ideas, aspirations, needs and issues of each community group we work with and are committed to supporting them to fast-track the creation of sustainable community organisations’’.

Refugee Week will be different for Muhama and the local community this year owing to COVID-19 restrictions, but they will still be celebrating with Zoom events to share stories and experiences.

‘’This country gives freedom for people to enhance and share their culture,” said Muhama. ”’When local Australians show eagerness to learn and understand, it encourages you to do the same – there is a sense of sharing each other’s cultures.’’

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