Welcome to our special series celebrating Diversity and Inclusion in MercyCare’s employees, volunteers and service users. Our stories are accompanied by Steve Wise’s remarkable photographs, that show how these ordinary, yet extraordinary, people are individually effecting change for themselves and the people around them. We hope you enjoy their personal stories.
Florence Tressler – MercyCare Step by Step Settlement Services Alliance Coordinator
“My Dad had a non-negotiable rule in the house. At 16 you move out of home to a new continent,” Florence said.
“It was to encourage us to have an open mind. He said: ‘Whenever you’re the majority, sometimes you don’t question how things happen, or why things are the way they are, but when you’re in another country and you’re a minority, you really learn to get out of your comfort zone, you learn to socialise with people from different backgrounds’.”
Florence’s father had left Zimbabwe in his 20’s to study at Cornell University in New York and her older brother had headed to England at 16 years old. Florence decided both were too cold for her; she would leave Zimbabwe for Perth to further her studies.
“I don’t regret it because it’s given me really thick skin. It takes a lot to push me down. At such a young age to survive in a country where you don’t know anyone, you don’t have any family, you have to really dig in deep within yourself.”
While a huge step for a 16-year-old, Florence had already been exposed to different cultures as her family moved from Zimbabwe to Kenya and back.
“In Kenya, I went to an international school. Everybody in my classroom was from a different background and that really helped to open-up my mind about different people, cultures, religions and beliefs, and I really enjoyed that.
“It made me realise the way I think is not always the way everyone else thinks, and it is not necessarily the right way. It made me appreciate how different people see different things.”
Florence’s first six months in Australia were rocky with a negative homestay experience, but a new family brought better times.
“They took me to the footy, different restaurants, the beach, and that’s when I started really enjoying being in Australia and appreciating the laidback culture and lifestyle.”
After completing a double degree in Behavioural Science and Human Resources, Florence worked with migrants and instilling leadership in young girls before joining MercyCare this year.
“I’ve always been really passionate about helping people from refugee backgrounds. When I came to Australia, I was fortunate that I could speak English and had financial backing and, even then, I struggled. Imagine coming and having neither of those things.
“I can’t say I understand because I haven’t walked in their shoes, but I can relate.
“Employment is crucial in the settlement process for building self-confidence, finance and to learn about Australian culture. But the learning works both ways.
“It also teaches mainstream Australia how different cultures do things.
“Employment opportunities for migrants are few and far between, so when they come, they grab it and they work extremely hard.”
Will Florence be enforcing her family’s rule for her own two-year-old daughter?
“I don’t think I could put my own daughter through that at that age, even though even now I can see how strong she is. And anyway, her Dad would never allow it, she has him wrapped around her little finger.”