06 December 2021
Sister Project WA founder Tracey Cave
The Ellenbrook mum helping migrant women fight loneliness in the suburbs.
With four kids, you might guess Ellenbrook’s Tracey Cave has her hands full. Yet every Monday to Friday from 9-5, she’s busy with her other baby – the Sister Project, a non-profit that helps migrant women adjust to Perth life.
“It’s a passion of mine to work with women so that’s where the energy comes from,” she says. “I don’t get paid for what I do, but I get paid in love by the women. It’s such a buzz, it brings me a lot of joy.”
The idea seeded when the former ESL teacher helped the mother of her kid's friends find a report card at school. “What jumped out at me was that she had two older children, and she still didn’t know where to pick up a report card, she didn’t know how to communicate with teachers.”
Despite Ellenbrook's decidedly multicultural demographic – 33 per cent of residents were born overseas – it was evident migrant women lacked the support they needed.
I saw there was an opportunity not to be missed to help and serve people by connecting them.
She founded Sister Project two years ago, a weekly craft activity for around 15 women to connect and practise their English in a safe space. Since then, its members have exploded to over 100 with a calendar bursting with events and opportunities, from an Adult Migrant English Program to Zumba. Social workers from organisations like Ishar come to give extra support, while police officers often swing by for a cuppa – helping normalise police relationships for women that need help.
Fighting against suburban loneliness
According to Tracey, many migrant women are unprepared for the loneliness of life in the suburbs. “One of our ladies is from South Sudan, where they live in compound houses. There might be 30 kids in one house – they don't have this concept of loneliness. By coming here, women get that sense of belonging, avoiding a lot of mental health problems. It helps provide the structure of a family, like sisters.”
Sister Project also empowers women to identify their skills to make a living. “One lady was trying to get a job at places like Costco, but because of her English, she felt low in confidence and wasn’t getting past the interviews,” Tracey recalls. “She said, ‘What can I do here if I can’t even get a low-level job?’ I told her, ‘I think you’re aiming too low.’"
After some digging, Tracey discovered the woman was an accomplished artist and art lecturer at a university in her native Afghanistan. Tracey organised a headline show at a local art gallery, set up a Facebook page to sell her works, and connected her with organisations that pay a commission to use her imagery.
Other women might learn to earn money from cooking, weaving or pottery – some for the first time in their lives. “We sold a painting that one lady did and when we gave her the money she said, ‘This is the first money I’ve ever earned for myself, I’m never spending this!’ She was crying, she was so happy.”
It’s these moments that make those long, unpaid hours worth it. “I am so passionate about it,” says Tracey. “I’ve found my reason why I’m here.”