Stephanie Miller took on the job as CEO of STTARS (Survivors of Torture and Trauma Assistance and Rehabilitation Service) a year ago. She sat down with SALT Magazine to talk about her new role and the ONE THOUSAND LIFETIMES IN ONE LIFETIME photo exhibition which her organisation was showcasing in collaboration with The Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre.
“I knew that the organisation did very good work and had a good reputation; and also I believe in the work the organisation does for refugees and asylum seekers.” What attracted her was “being in an organisation that’s about building resilience and helping people to not only settle but to be who they can be in their new community.”
It is a large organisation with a larger task on its hands.
“We have about 40 staff, and we see around 1,200 people a year, and run about 24,000 sessions a year. The length and the breadth of the work that we do is quite complex” – including raising awareness of the impact of trauma and the importance of psychosocial support.
STTARS joined forces with The Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre to present a photographic exhibition, One Thousand Lifetimes in One Lifetime, which was held in November/December 2015. It featured the work of award-winning photojournalists Kate Geraghty & Barat Ali Batoor.
Says Stephanie, “for me, this exhibition speaks to a couple of things that are really important: they are hope and resilience.”
Stephanie saw the exhibition as “not only the opportunity to bring the work of two fantastic photographers to SA but also about showcasing, yes, the atrocities of war and the awful things that have happened to people; but it’s also about what they have done, how they have rebuilt their lives, how they’ve created hope and become hopeful again about the future; and celebrating the people’s resilience.
“The work that we do with our clients is about helping them with their experiences of torture and trauma, building their resilience, their capacity to cope with those issues, and helping them to gain some hope for the future. So our work is about resilience and hope too.”
“I think it’s important on the one hand to raise awareness around the experiences that people have had and therefore why they want to come to Australia, and why we need to welcome people.”
STTARS is funded by the Federal Department of Health. To qualify for assistance, you need to be from a refugee or migrant background and to have experienced torture or been traumatised as a result of persecution, violence, war or unlawful imprisonment prior to your arrival in Australia.
“There is no limit to how often or how long we can see those people. You don’t need a referral from the doctor or another service; you can self-refer.
“It doesn’t matter how long they have been in Australia. Whoever is experiencing symptoms that are related to torture and trauma from experiences prior to arrival in Australia can access that service.
“Our engagement at the moment with the African Community is mainly with about 300 clients who are from various African communities. The largest single group of those are people from the DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo]; next groups are the Sudanese and Liberians.
In order to reach the African Community, STTARS has connections in different communities and locations. They have a worker based in Mount Gambier and Naracoorte, and they promote the Service through other service providers like the Migrant Resource Centre, the Australian Refugee Association and our interpreters.
“Our main engagement is with those individual clients and the interpreters that we work with. In the past we had engagement with the Burundian community. We are also hoping to work with the African Women’s Federation to do programs around safe relationships. Domestic violence comes up in our work with individuals, children and families. What we see is the impact of family violence on the relationships, and we deal with that in our counselling. We thought that it was a nice synergy for us to combine our expertise and do some work with the communities.”
“How long we see them really depends on the individual because we assess each individual and each individual is unique. The thing about STTARS is that our service is free and confidential.
In terms of community development, Stephanie says that STTARS would like to continue to work with communities, “building their awareness and an understanding of our work, but also supporting communities to help themselves support their own people.
SALT Magazine asked Ms Miller to summarise her first year in the saddle: “It has been hectic, and sometimes it’s been smooth sailing, but I love it!”