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In Melbourne, Pairing Coffee with Training for Refugees In Melbourne, Pairing Coffee with Training for Refugees

In Melbourne, Pairing Coffee with Training for Refugees

by Jane Marx
August 25, 2013

To get the best out of a humble coffee bean, you first have to roast it at a starting temperature of about 160 degrees, then grind it into tiny pieces, and finally you extract the coffee by forcing pressurized water near boiling point to filter through. That's not a bad metaphor for how I feel after trying to bridge the worlds of coffee-making and immigration with Long Street Espresso. 

If coffee and immigration sound like two very different things to bring together, you wouldn't be far off. But I'm no stranger to odd couples. I am an Australian and my husband is South African. We met in Scotland and soon became determined to live together in my homeland. So began the long battle with the borders and bureaucracy that can really make one question the sanity of falling in love with someone on the other side of the world.

In 2008, when I started volunteering at a refugee settlement support centre, I realized how my struggles in love paled compared to those of refugees here. Landing on my big island with next-to-no English, many had limited or no Australian-recognized qualifications, and barely two Aussie dollars to rub together. I was a young university student teaching English to people who had fled the unthinkable and, as the story often goes, they changed my life. 

I live in Melbourne, one of the greatest coffee cities in the world. Thanks to the post-war influx of Italian and Greek immigrants, an appreciation for good coffee has become an integral part of Melbourne’s culture. Our baristas and roasters are some of the world’s best, and we are a city in love with independent cafés—something that Starbucks overlooked when they set up shop on the very street where Melbourne’s coffee culture originated. We sent them packing. 

My coffee-making skills helped pay my way through a four-year degree in International Relations. After the thousands of cups I’ve poured, I know what makes a great cup of coffee. I also know the importance of untold stories. Last year I started an online publication, Framed, which publishes interviews with people who are providing alternative perspectives on places, people, and news headlines. Our interviewees are documentary filmmakers, writers, photographers, and activists. One quality they all share is a drive to make a difference. 

My chance to make a difference is Long Street Espresso. This coffee shop aims to craft the finest coffee, made and served to you by young members of Melbourne’s refugee community. Offering hospitality skills training and employment to unemployed refugees will be the first step in enabling these young people to fulfill their potential.

Long Street will show that refugees bring to their new home valuable skills and life experiences. More importantly, Long Street will emphasize that these people are not a burden, but an asset. Asylum seekers are some of the most desperate and persecuted people on earth. I have found them to be some of the hardest working, resilient, and resourceful. 

When I first approached a refugee employment consultant with this concept, I could see his mind begin to whirl. He was overwhelmed thinking of the number of people who desperately wanted an opportunity like this one. More than sixty percent of refugees who come to Australia fail to secure stable employment after five years of being here. This isn’t through lack of trying. Refugees face profound barriers including employer discrimination and racism. 

Australia is a nation of immigrants. Almost half of us were either born overseas or have a parent who was. We brag about our multiculturalism in the same way Melburnians do about their coffee. As a nation that champions the little man, the underdog, we, above all, pride ourselves on giving people a “fair go.” It is in this spirit that I am starting Long Street Espresso. The unemployment rate amongst our newest arrivals is no cause for boasting and to be given a “fair go” is all they are asking.

The café is named after one of the main streets in Cape Town, South Africa. It is a place of impressive cultural diversity. I chose this name in the hope that Long Street Espresso would come to replicate its namesake in a celebration of multiculturalism. Starting this café has also been a long, long street of a different kind paved with eye-opening experiences of racism and rejection. 

The arduous journey of making this café a reality has made steadfast my belief that the opportunity to gain secure employment is something that we all deserve, no matter where we live, or where we’ve come from. If you agree, click this link and vote for me to win a small competition that will help cover the café’s start-up costs. Then come visit Long Street Espresso in Melbourne, introduce yourself, meet our baristas, and enjoy a coffee on the house.

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