PRAGYA Kant understands the value of extending a hand of friendship to migrants in Horsham.
The president of the Oasis Wimmera migrant support group is from India, where she completed her PhD at Haryana Agriculture University.
She lived with her husband in Israel for three years, immigrated to Canada, where they stayed for six years, then moved to Australia in 2011.
Support from Oasis Wimmera meant she got to participate in activities that were new to her but embedded in Australian culture - things she simply wouldn’t have done alone and in a new country.
“I had my first camping experience with the Oasis group, I would never have done it by myself,” she said.
“We did canoeing, slept in tents for the first time and damper cooking.”
So the importance, then, in keeping the support group up and running becomes clear.
“I felt the same for other migrants - they would not try new things by themselves,” she said.
“They need to know Australian culture to enjoy living here.”
Dr Kant runs Oasis Wimmera in her spare time.
She is a mother of two and works full-time as a research scientist at the Grains Innovation Park, in the area of pulses.
However, a busy career and family life doesn’t stop her drive to support others who are new to Horsham.
“I think it is critical to support migrants in a regional area, they tend to look for support before doing new activities,” she said.
“People are very supportive here, meeting new people and making friends is necessary for them.
“It is a challenge being in the president’s role, working full-time with two kids and my husband in a full-time job as well.
“For Oasis I work mainly on weekends or after hours.
“It gives me satisfaction that I am contributing to the community and Horsham is a great place.
“I have a very supportive husband too.”
Dr Kant said she received a lot of positive feedback from group members, who also got involved wherever they could and believed the group should keep going and growing.
She took on the role of president last year. Oasis Wimmera has approximately 100 members, of which about 70 are migrants.
This year the group was honoured with a Centre for Participation Celebrating Diversity Award.
The group, which also plays an important advocacy role, organises many activities and social gatherings, such as the bi-monthly Tastes of the World cooking sessions, where women from different parts of the world share their recipes.
They demonstrate preparing and cooking a dish and then people who attend get to taste the meal.
Dr Kant said the aims of this event included providing a platform for families who wanted to demonstrate their skills and therefore boost their morale.
It was also a place for a social gathering, where families from different backgrounds could come together and share their cultures and experiences.
Oasis Wimmera has also been hosting badminton sessions for families on Thursday nights during school terms at Horsham College gym. The group covers the cost of badminton kits and venue hire for a small membership fee and also provides lessons for children.
“The aim again is to get the community together and get associated with each other while maintaining physical fitness,” Dr Kant said.
Other activities include Mother’s Day cake making, Pot Luck Lunch and Dinner, day trips to surrounding areas as well as a Christmas Party for migrants and their children.
It also has 12 garden beds at the St John’s Community Garden, with their care assigned to individual migrant families who are passionate about gardening but don’t have enough space at their small flats.
“Oasis Wimmera pays for the rental of garden beds, supplies the seeds and garden equipment,” Dr Kant said.
“This provides the sense of ownership to families as well as keeping them engaged with other families and hence improves social connections.”
Other activities include subsidised swimming lessons.
Dr Kant said since the group was launched she was an active participant in many of its activities.
She said the move to Australia was the most challenging out of all the moves she had done - it was minus 10 degrees when they left Canada and 42 degrees when they arrived in Horsham.
She said Horsham had proved to be a very welcoming city.
“It’s not too small, everything is available here and, of course, I never liked the rush in cities.
“My work and kids’ school are very close.”
Dr Kant said she felt a sense of happiness after organising the successful group events.
“I wish I could inspire more people to take volunteering roles,” she said.
“Volunteering makes a healthy community and I find so much pleasure in doing it.”
Dr Kant said Oasis was always in need of more volunteers. And people do not have to be migrants to help out. You can find out more about Oasis Wimmera at its Facebook page or you’re interested in becoming a member of Oasis Wimmera, send them an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.