Macarena Erbs, Luz Restrepo and Ifrin Fittock. Photo: ANDREW PERRYMAN

SisterWorks Bendigo was launched last Tuesday in St Andrew’s Hall by a group of inspiring women who are determined to give strength and independence to immigrant women and refugees.

The focus of the group is on newly arrived women or women who are long term unemployed.

The organisation was founded by Luz Restrepo, a political refugee from Colombia who believes in the principle that work and employment are fundamental to the progress and empowerment of immigrants and refugees.

Ms Restrepo arrived in Australia in 2010 with no English, no money and her life shattered.

“I felt like a nobody; frightened, isolated and disempowered,” she said.

SisterWorks was officially founded in May 2013 with an emphasis on women building their own businesses.

They are taught the legal aspects of business, fund-raising, marketing, administrative skills and are provided support and structure. In Melbourne this amazing social enterprise model is supporting 171 women from 55 countries.

Based in Richmond, the women create and sell their wares.

They make a range of sustainable products such as reusable product bags, hemp wash cloths and beeswax foodwraps.

“When we show the women how to make the products we only speak in English,” Ms Restrepo said.

“Everyone has to speak English, so as well as learning to make products, they learn English.”

The initial SisterWorks meeting in Bendigo was attended by 15 women.

SisterWorks is supported by Bendigo Community Health and several community agencies. They are looking for volunteers to help with this flourishing social enterprise.

SisterWorks meets every Tuesday at St Andrew’s Hall from 10am to 2.30pm.

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– Dianne Dempsey