3 August 2018
As the 2017 Newcastle Citizen of the Year, Sister Diana Santleben might not need an introduction for some.
But for those who do, she is the founder of Zara’s House Refugee Womens and Children’s Centre, at Jesmond.
The centre is a safe place for newly arrived refugee women and their families, where they can connect with the local community, share stories and skills, and learn languages – both English and that of their country of origin.
“Our motto is ‘in it together’,” Sister Di said of Zara’s House. “What we do is get to know people. It’s as simple as that. We’re not a big organisation, we’re a group of friends here in Newcastle who want to help.”
Sister Di, who moved to Newcastle about 13 years ago to retire, reckons it is the Novocastrian spirit which lies in the centre’s roots.
“We’ve always had a very close relationship in all sorts of ways with the people of Newcastle,” she said.
“I love living here, I love the place and I certainly love the spirit of Newcastle.
“Because of how we are as Newcastle people, the logical thing is to say ‘how can we make refugees who come to our town feel as though they are welcome here?’.
“That basically is the philosophy of Zara’s House, a group of friends – about 80 of us – and we needed a centre.”
Zara’s House will gain a national profile this week, when Sister Di appears on an ABC Compass documentary series titled "Pitch Up".
“About two years ago I was approached by AMP to apply for a grant to set up a micro-finance program with refugees,” Sister Di said.
“We had this need, working with refugees, to be able to lend a little bit of money.
“Not for buying anything, but when there is a crisis in the family. They pay it back slowly each fortnight.”
Zara’s House received $20,000 from AMP for the micro-finance program, and it was that link which led to Compass producers seeking out Sister Di to spend a day filming at Zara’s House.
The two-part series, which begins on Saturday, will shine a light on the incredible work of Zara’s House and the benefits felt within the Newcastle community. A range of organisations are featured in the series, which focuses on live crowdfunding.
Sister Di had to pitch to a philanthropic group, whose members could decide if they wanted to contribute funds to the show’s featured organisations.
“I said, well, yes [to the series], no one really gives us [Zara’s House] any money unless they’re our friends,” Sister Di said. “The people of Newcastle, basically.
Tune in on Saturday night to see if that changes.
Read the full article in Newcastle Herald here.