I am Yassah Zarwue, from Liberia, West Africa. I’ve been in Australia since 2009. I came with my four children.
When I was 12, I grew vegetables and sold them in the local market. When I was 20, I started my own business to help support my siblings. I took goods like clothes, shoes, and watches from the city. I then went to the gold mine and bartered them for gold, and then re-sold the gold back in the city! After a few years, I sold the gold in Guinea and Sierra Leone because the gold price was higher there. So I’d ship food and gold to those countries to trade there. It was dangerous, but I had no alternative.
I had 23 siblings total; my Mom had 8 with my dad. After the war broke out in our village we all fled to different destinations.
When I got to Guinea I was helping people in a refugee camp and met a Swedish lady from the Red Cross. She discovered that my mother and some of my siblings had made it to Australia.
My family sponsored me, so I could come to Australia.
My husband had disappeared in 2005 during a violent riot in Guinea. In 2009, my family went to the Red Cross, and they found him. In 2011 I sponsored him, but a few days before he was supposed to arrive here, he passed away from a heart attack.
Yeah, it is pretty hard.
I started with SisterWorks in 2012. I was doing a micro-business course with the Brotherhood of St. Laurence. I would show things to sell to my classmates, and Luz saw, and told me she was organising a program that could help me sell my baskets. I began selling my things at a home party she organised. I’ve sold a lot of my African baskets and fabrics at these parties. The baskets are made by widows from Liberia who are now refugees in Ghana; they make the baskets to help their kids. I want to help support them, so I buy from them.
SisterWorks has been very supportive. They have lent me a laptop, and my mentor, Gill, is teaching me computer skills. I am also learning to drive.
I have begun volunteering with SisterWorks, coordinating a project to go into schools to teach students about African culture.
I will make appointments and run this project to facilitate the sharing of culture. I will share stories and run dance sessions. In my culture dancing brings unity, love and happiness, and I hope to share that with Australian school children.
I am also continuing to development my business and work towards economic independence.
Recently on a trip back to Africa I saw the needs of orphaned children, and so I want to develop my business in order to help them. There is much sickness and homelessness all over the world, and I hope to be able to establish myself so that I may be able to help orphaned children. In order to do this, I want to take traditional African fabrics and use them in styles that Australians and Europeans can wear.