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Refugee-run community kitchen attracts proactive volunteer

Post Series: SSI Stories

Australia has a proud tradition in volunteerism, as shown by a remarkable 36 per cent of the population aged 18 and over who regularly offer their time to support others. Those who volunteer for SSI are prime examples.

The options for aspiring volunteers are endless, although sport, community and education have long maintained their status as the most popular recipients of the volunteering efforts of Australians.

SSI volunteer Lewis Klipin is one of over six million Australians who have incorporated volunteering into their daily lives. His unwavering commitment to volunteering is an inspiration to others, having contributed at least two days a week for over 15 years since entering retirement.

The transition to retirement can be a challenge for some. However, Mr Klipin used this opportunity to take on volunteerism as a way of keeping a healthy mind, creating new social connections and, especially, giving back to the community, he said.

“I started volunteering as a way of giving back to Sydney — a city that has given us so much,” he said.

“My family and I are immigrants, as well. We arrived 38 years ago, and we’ve had a wonderful life here, so I took on volunteering as a way to give back to the community.”

This purpose led him to start volunteering with the Asylum Seeker Centre, where he spent three years visiting Villawood detention centre on a regular basis.

After ten years with the organisation, Mr Klipin joined SSI as a volunteer and has quickly become a valued team member at the Auburn Community Kitchen.

The SSI Community Kitchen is a space people from different backgrounds and cultures share and learn from one another, celebrating fortnightly events with workshops, performances, activities, music and multicultural food.

In five years — and with the support of volunteers like Lewis — this initiative has served over 18,000 free meals to new arrivals and the wider community.

“Here, I can talk to so many people from different parts of the world and always find something in common. We are all brothers and sisters here, and this is my Australian family.”

“The part that I enjoy the most about volunteering is the direct interaction with clients,” he said.

“Unfortunately, at the other organisations where I volunteered, this started happening less and less every time, so I became disillusioned. However, at SSI, I can have a direct relationship with program participants, which is why I like it so much.

“It feels great to be part of an organisation that is concerned about the welfare of people in a vulnerable situation and need of help.”

Besides his regular support at Community Kitchen and other special events, such as the SSI New Beginnings Festival, Mr Klipin’s proactive approach to volunteering hasn’t gone unnoticed at SSI.

Alongside SSI’s Community Engagement Team, Mr Klipin has organised day outings for clients to the Australian National Maritime Museum and Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, where they learned about aspects of the Australian culture that are often overlooked by welcome programs.

Years of working with refugees and asylum seekers in Australia has turned Mr Klipin into a living box of memories and stories.

“My fondest memory of all these years of volunteering is hearing about a group of asylum seekers from Iran that I met at Villawood who finally obtained their permanent residence,” Mr Klipin explained.

“I used to visit them often, and hearing that their visas were approved and so they could stay in Australia made me very happy.

“One of them even got to bring his whole family over here with him; it was a very exciting moment.”

Despite being extremely rewarding, volunteering also involves a tough side. Mr Klipin clearly remembers the strong sense of helplessness he felt during his first visits to Villawood.

“I remember feeling there was nothing that you could do about it … No doubt, getting used to that was the hardest part,” he said.

This initial distress, however, didn’t stop him from keeping up with his commitment to volunteering to improve the lives of new arrivals and people seeking asylum in Australia.

“You can’t imagine the enormous amount of satisfaction that you can get out from giving back to the community,” Mr Klipin said.

For more information about SSI, click here.

To find out more about SSI volunteer opportunities, click here.


Settlement Services International (SSI) is the principal sponsor for Refugee Week 2019. This series of stories are stories of resilience and engagement from across their network.