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As Refugee Week winds down, we caught up with Andrew Holt, an Outreach Worker from Dandenong. Andrew works with a number of young refugees and asylum seekers within the YSAS One Community Program. Here he shares his experience of working with people seeking refuge in Melbourne’s south east.

What are some of the main needs of young refugees accessing the One Community Program?

We mainly see young males, they’ve been sent ahead by their families back home to set themselves up, earn some money and then send for the rest of the family who are still living either in danger at home or in a Refugee Camp.

Because they’re alone, they’re really isolated and the biggest immediate need is to create social connections, make human contact.

How does the program support these young people to make connections?

Part of the program is a Wednesday night shared dinner in a relaxed environment. Our setup is kind of like a lounge and they can do anything from play Uno to have an official letter translated by a worker. It’s a really relaxed, welcoming environment with a home cooked meal by other young people.

These evenings help the young people to create those positive bonds and networks in Dandenong. In a way, it’s like recreating the networks we’ve all enjoyed growing up, but for this group of vulnerable young people who find themselves alone in a new country.

What contributions do young refugees in the Dandenong area make to the community?

I think that, just by being here and working or studying, and sharing their experiences, they’re really teaching the wider community about where they’re from and the journey they’ve taken to get here.

One of the local employers who’s just taken on a young guy from the Middle East has told me his whole workforce has been really struck by this guy’s experience. He arrived in Australia after travelling overland and alone across Asia to Australia, because of war in his home country.

They kind of can’t believe one person could endure all that and still be so motivated and positive every day at work.

Just by being here and talking about their experiences refugees and asylum seekers are myth busting a lot of the really unfair things said about them in the media.

I get frustrated listening to some of the rhetoric –expecting people to go straight into full-time work after the trauma almost every refugee has experienced is mind-blowing. Rather than first allowing them to heal some pretty deep wounds.

Another young guy who is still in school and facing a few immigration difficulties has been so taken in by the community, they’ve raised over $30,000 to support his continued education – it’s incredible.

What have you learned, personally from the young refugees you’ve worked with?

They’ve helped me realise just how globally connected we are. What happens in Afghanistan affects us in Dandenong, and our government policies affect ordinary people in Afghanistan and beyond. My world view is much bigger now, I pay a lot more attention to global news and issues affecting refugees and asylum seekers.

Are there any stories in particular that young people have told you that have struck you?

Yeah, there are a lot! One young guy in particular I’ve been working with for around 24 months. He’s in his early twenties and left Afghanistan because of the war, leaving behind his entire family, including a wife and three kids. His journey to Australia was unbelievably traumatic but as the oldest male of the family, he had to make this journey out here in the hope that he could claim asylum, get a job and earn enough money to start bringing his family out here.

Despite everything he’s been through – escaping his home country because people were trying to kill him, crossing many countries alone, not understanding the languages, dealing with smugglers, arriving in Australia after a harrowing trip – he is still committed to working as much as he can to reunite his family.

He’s only a young guy, and when I was explaining how his holiday pay and leave entitlements work he was telling me he wouldn’t take time off because when he wasn’t working he was thinking about all he’s been through and the danger his family continues to live in. And that wasn’t really an option.

So the strength of this guy, just to highlight one example is incredibly striking.

If you’d like to support programs like the One Community Program in Dandenong’s work with young refugees and asylum seekers, you can donate here.

To find out more about Refugee Week, visit the campaign website.

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Sunday, 19 June is the first day of Refugee Week in Australia. It’s a time for us to come together as a community, recognising and celebrating the contributions of refugees and people who speak out against injustice, to Australian society.

So, who are refugees? According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, they are “people fleeing conflict or persecution”. There are currently over 20 million around the world.

The theme of this year’s Refugee Week is: with courage let us all combine. At YSAS, we’ve worked with and supported young refugees, from diverse backgrounds facing diverse challenges for many years.

The One Community Program in Dandenong and Emerging Communities Program in Sunshine are two programs that support young refugees in Melbourne to tackle particular issues they face while transitioning to their new community.

In the spirit of this year’s Refugee Week, we’ve met with a couple of people supporting and providing leadership to young refugees.

Andrew, an outreach worker from Dandenong helps run the YSAS One Community Program. Workers like Andrew play a vital role in building positive relationships with young people and ensuring they have the support they need to thrive in their new home.

Anita* arrived ten years ago in Australia from South Sudan. She accessed the support of the Emerging Communities Program to overcome some significant personal challenges including homelessness and pregnancy. She is now studying to become a Counsellor and role model for other young South Sudanese in Melbourne.

Keep an eye out this week for our two blogs from Andrew and Anita.

There’s a lot happening around the country for Refugee Week, check out the campaign website for events and notices, or follow #RefugeeWeek through social media.

*nb: Anita’s name has been changed for privacy reasons.

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From Simon Overland, Chair of the YSAS Board

The Board of Directors at Youth Support + Advocacy Service (YSAS) is pleased to announce the appointment of Andrew Bruun to the position of Chief Executive Officer.

Andrew’s long involvement with YSAS in a number of senior management roles, including as the acting CEO over the past twelve months, illustrates his deep understanding of and commitment to YSAS’s vision, values, beliefs, purpose and priorities.  Andrew is also widely recognised for his deep subject matter expertise and work history in relation to youth health and well-being.  The Board is confident that he will continue to provide strong and supportive leadership for the organisation.

The YSAS Board looks forward to working with Andrew to ensure we live in a community where all young people are valued and have every opportunity to thrive.

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The Board of Directors at Youth Support + Advocacy Service (YSAS) is delighted to announce the appointment of Simon Overland to Chair of the YSAS Board.   Simon was a highly valued YSAS Board member between 2007 and 2012, during which time he was a thoughtful contributor to the organisation’s strategy and policy development.

Simon has had senior roles with Victoria Police, Federal Police and currently he is Secretary of the Department of Justice in Tasmania.  He has a deep and continuing interest in the welfare of young people, and has always held a progressive and compassionate view of the wider social drivers underpinning  young people seeking help and treatment and to those engaged in the justice system.

As an agency with a national role in promoting high quality services to disadvantaged youth, Simon understands the challenges YSAS faces  and is passionate about the services that need to be available for young people to survive and then hopefully  to thrive.

Simon will bring a breadth of skills to the YSAS Board, which will be instrumental to his ability to continue to provide the kind of sound governance that supports the staff in their various roles with young people.

YSAS will be well served by having a Chair of his capacity, knowledge and values.

Sunshine YSAS art therapy programme mural being painted
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On Friday 29th and Saturday 30th October 2015 an art therapy program was facilitated at the YSAS Sunshine office. The aim of the program was to impart clients with new skills in regards to street art, provide education centred on the legalities of street art/graffiti and also to revamp a section of the office.

An art program facilitated by YSAS Sunshine had been in the discussion stage for over a year, and was made possible by way of money raised by febfast and Victoria University (Sunshine). The end result was certainly worth the wait.

Four young people were selected from our client base, with their street art skills ranging from beginners to somewhat experienced artists. The group were assisted and directed by a highly skilled street artist, Andrew Dyson and supervised by YSAS Sunshine staff members, Dave, Emma and Zenaida who also tried their hand at spray painting with varying results!

Friday was a planning day with the day commencing at 10:00am, the young people were transported to the Visy Cares Hub where introductions were made and an overview of the two-days was provided.  Andrew provided the group with information regarding legal graffiti sites as well as information centred on the legalities of spray paint possession, police stop and searches, specialised police taskforces (used to combat graffiti) and graffiti exclusion zones.  

A trip to the local Bunnings Warehouse was undertaken and material such as drop-sheets, face masks and MDF boards were purchased by the group. A yummy pizza lunch followed this, before the group had a brain storming and sketching session whereby a theme and colour scheme for the piece of art was decided. “Multiculturalism” was the theme adopted with the word “Sunshine” being incorporated within this, topped with a city skyline, the group also agreed to spray paint a national flag which depicted their own heritage. 

A group trip was undertaken to Giant Productions situated in North Melbourne to purchase the spray paint required. The day concluded with the participants receiving a tutorial from Andrew Dyson on how to use the spray cans before the group had an individual practice run using the MDF boards.

Saturday’s session commenced at 10:30am with the group arriving keen and raring to get started. The young people worked well and safely throughout and assisted each other collectively whenever the need arose.  Some participants got so involved that they had to be encouraged to take a break in order to eat lunch! The day concluded at 5:00pm with everyone very much satisfied with the finalised piece of art.

Quotes from the day included: 

“That was so much fun”

“I didn’t think it would be this good”

“It was good learning new skills”

“Will there be any other programs like this”

 

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I am the girl that everyone hated in High School. Not because I wasn’t pretty enough, not because I was a weirdo, but because I was not a follower.

I wasn’t someone who hid behind their shadows.

And that’s what I want you to be. No matter how scared you are or if you are new. Don’t let anyone tell you where you should walk.

I went through a lot.

I went through a long distance relationship, and if you think that your LDR sucks, you have no idea.

I had mine for 4 years, I was told that he was in need of a heart transplantation, and than that he died just to find out in the end after several months that he was alive, and that it was all just a game. The imaginative mind and the amount of time people have nowadays.

Yes I was devastated, I was sad, I hated myself and I hated everyone else. It was hard for so many months and yes no one could understand. I was only 15, but time healed me and it healed my pain, because if you don’t want to be healed no one else can do the work you.

I know the feeling when you have a crush and you think you’re falling for them but suddenly you meet someone else and you don’t feel the same about the person you thought you fell for, because I went through that.

I had a crush in High School and being lucky enough he liked me too, we dated for 5 months but eventually I wasn’t into him anymore so we ended the relationship.

It is okay to end a relationship. You should not feel guilty for a second if you’re not happy in it. Please, no matter how the circumstances are please take care of your happiness first.

Yes, I know what it is like to be in an abusive relationship. I went through that too. I got my feelings played, I got used for sexual needs, I felt ashamed of myself. But, you are not at fault and you should not blame yourself because if you don’t forgive yourself no one else can.

I lived the worst 2 years of my life and I was in love head over heels; the hardest thing for me was to leave him no matter what he did to me. That is the worst mistake you could do to yourself.  Do not chase people, be you and do your own thing, and work hard, the right people who belong in your life will come to you, and stay.

PLEASE. I know how you feel but please never put anyone elses needs before yours. Today I know better, today as I observe my past I realise the mistakes I have made, all the times I let people walk all over me treat me the way no one should ever be treated, and I ask myself why did I let that happen?

I had no one to talk to, I had no one to give me a hand and I went through all of It alone.

Yes I had tried to commit suicide, but if I did do that would I be here today to try and help you out? I wouldn’t.

Everything that had happened to me would be buried along with me.

Why should you end your life for mistakes that have happened in the past for which you had no blame? Because I was too good, and sometimes being too good brings you no good.

Please think that.

Sometimes you just to turn around, give a little smile, throw the match and burn that bridge.

You are important no matter what.

You are beautiful. You deserve another chance in life.

A new chance that is given to you every morning.

No one is you and that is your power. Every night before you fall asleep, give a heartfelt thanks for the wonderful day you just had ( no matter what kind of day you just had ). Think about the next day, and intend that it is going to be wonderful. Intend that it is going to be the best day of your life. Intend that it is going to be filled with joy and love. Intend that all good is coming to you and everything is going to flow perfectly. Then when you wake in the morning, before you get out of bed, again declare your intentions for the day and give deep thanks as though you have received them all. As you do this, you will begin to create your life, deliberately, and you will experience firsthand the power that is within you to create the life you want. Like a wild flower, you must allow yourself to grow in all the places people thought you never would.

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