STRUGGLING to pay their rent and living expenses and ineligible for any government relief, a Wonthaggi refugee family says they feel “blessed” to be part of a community that’s rallying to support them through the COVID-19 crisis.
Gomathy Sivasi and Raj Paramanandan and their four-year-old son Shamakh have been hit hard by the economic fallout of the pandemic, with Raj’s work hours as a cook slashed along with the downscaling of hospitality businesses across the nation in compliance with social distancing measures.
With their bridging visa status ruling out access to government relief such as JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments, or early access to superannuation, they’ve been surviving on income that’s barely enough to make ends meet – about $200 a week from Raj’s reduced shifts, and whatever extra they can make from Gomathy’s microbusiness selling and delivering traditional home-cooked Indian food.
Now, their many friends in the Wonthaggi area have stepped up to provide much needed support, aiming to raise $6000 via an online campaign to help them get through the next couple of months.
“They’re a wonderful family and make a valuable contribution to our community, yet they’re one of the few groups of people unable to access any benefits,” explains fundraiser organiser Jane Seaholme, who got to know the family through the Kongwak Market, where Gomathy has a stall selling samosas every Sunday.
“The fundraiser will help them cover their rent, utilities and food for 10 weeks. Hopefully things will be back to ‘normal’ by then and Raj can resume full-time work,” Jane said.
Gomathy and Raj have received the gesture with gratitude, seeing it as further evidence that they’ve chosen the right place to call home.
Hindus from the majority Muslim Malaysia, the couple came to Wonthaggi in 2016, and they’re now more determined than ever to stay in the area long-term, pending the outcome of their protection visa application, which will be decided in the courts next year.
“We’ve been really happy since we came to Wonthaggi; we’ve always been treated like equals, and felt like part of the community,” Gomathy said.
“We really feel that we are blessed to have had such a good response and to have made so many friends who are helping us when the government can’t. Fingers crossed we can stay. I want to keep feeding the people!”