Susan turned her life upside down for her marriage. Then the isolation set in

She’s all smiles and full of joy, but life in Australia for Susan Nkechi Anopueme wasn’t all rosy to begin with.

On the brink of a “mid-life crisis” is how she describes what it was like when she first migrated from Nigeria.

It was 11 years ago when, recently married, she left everything behind and moved to Broome to join her husband, who was working as a GP in WA’s far north.

The couple then moved to Aveley — an outer Perth suburb — two years later.

A mid shot of a smiling woman with dark hair standing in a kitchen wearing an apron and holding a bowl of food.
Ms Anopueme says the Sister Project has helped to give her a new lease on life.(ABC News: Hugh Sando)

“I was very comfortable doing something I loved at home but I am married now and in my culture, marriage is a big one … when you’re married you give up everything for your marriage, you just make sure that marriage is working.

“I took it upon myself to make it work, because everything that broke other marriages would’ve broken my own marriage.”

‘You just sink inside yourself’

Coming to grips with her new life in another country left Ms Anopueme spiralling into isolation and grief.

“You need to talk to someone that understands what you’re saying, you need your cultural food.

“You just sink inside yourself, when am I going to get what I’m yearning for? That’s part of the isolation.”

A woman stands at a bench in a kitchen mixing food in a bowl and smiling as she talks to another woman who is holding a baby.
Ms Anopueme says making and sharing food is a point of connection.(ABC News: Hugh Sando)

But Ms Anopueme said being a strong role model for her daughters was the main driving force for changing her outlook.

“It was stressful, it was almost a mid-life crisis for me but I turned it around myself, I decided to make sure it wasn’t going to be a crisis,” she said.

“It is so important that every woman stands up [on her own] … I just want my kids to know they can do it. Nothing can break them, nothing can stop them.

“It’s very important for me to model for these girls, they need to be strong.”

Group fosters connections to support ‘whole families’

A few months ago, Ms Anopueme stumbled upon a community group in her local area called Sister Project.

In Ellenbrook — 30 kilometres east of Perth, where multicultural populations are growing — 33 per cent of residents were born overseas.

It’s one of the fastest-growing areas in WA, located alongside the urban growth corridor, where more than 37 per cent of the population are non-native English speakers.

Local resident Tracey Cave saw a lack of services within her community and decided to step in.

With a background in teaching, she started Sister Project a year ago to help culturally and linguistically diverse (CaLD) women learn English, pick up or share life skills and socialise.

A head and shoulders shot of a smiling woman with short dark hair and a leopard print scarf standing outside posing for a photo.
Tracey Cave founded Sister Project in Ellenbrook a year ago.(ABC News: Hugh Sando)

Having lived overseas and with a husband from Ghana, Ms Cave has a deep understanding and passion for giving migrants a new lease on life.

“I know how difficult it is to start in a new country, in Australia, when you don’t have Australian qualifications or work experience or anything like that, so it’s quite challenging to move here and set yourself up again,” she said.

Ms Cave said helping women in particular was essential in helping communities thrive.

“When you’re helping women, you’re helping a whole family, you’re helping the women and the children,” she said.

“The mum needs to know how to go to doctor visits, mum needs to go shopping, how to earn money for the family, so when you’re helping a mum or a woman, you’re helping a lot of people, you’re helping more than just one person.”

English skills only part of the picture

Sister Project is one of the only local community programs which teaches English to migrant adults.

Fatema Reza, who is originally from Afghanistan, said attending the weekly workshops helped her to practice English and meet new people.

“English is my second language so I’m just getting out to learn a new language, new skills, chatting with other people.”

A woman wearing a leopard print headscarf and blue top smiles for a photo holding a young girl with dark hair and a grey top.
Fatema Reza says the group allows her to practice English and meet new people.(ABC News: Herlyn Kaur)

Indian-born Sangeeta Yadav said the group had also taught her a lot about other cultures in her community.

“My language is Hindi, so we speak Hindi at home but here we start to learn how to speak English,” Ms Yadav said.

“We get to know about different food, different languages [and] they all are very helpful.”

Ms Anopueme said her love for cooking came to life when she was given the opportunity to share her culture with other women.

“It has given me a platform to meet people like me … and one thing that connects us is food.”

Two women sit indoors as one draws henna art on the other's skin.
Sushma Gahlawat and Sangeeta Yadav (right) attend workshops at Sister Project.(ABC News: Herlyn Kaur)

Reducing geographic isolation helps with social disconnection

Despite a growth in multicultural communities in the area, Ms Cave said the major absence of targeted services risked leaving vulnerable migrant women without support.

“Your closest place to go to access these services is in Midland or Mirrabooka, it’s about an hour by bus to Midland, and it’s even longer to Mirrabooka — if you have small children, imagine doing that,” she said.

Ms Cave is urging community organisations to prioritise delivering services where they’re needed most.

“What I would love to see is for the services to come out to Ellenbrook, even once a week or once a fortnight,” she said.

Ms Cave is also hoping for government funding to help keep Sister Project alive.