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Culture is about family and looking after children: Imma's fostering journey

Foster carer Immaculee is the embodiment of Benjamin Franklin’s phrase, “If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it.” With three grown up children, Immaculee is a foster carer for two children, works in pre and after school care, volunteers at a refugee centre, sews traditional African dresses and makes African jewellery in her spare time!

50-year-old Immaculee (known as Imma) and her husband Chadrrack, from Albanvale in Melbourne’s western suburbs became foster carers in September last year.

I come from Burrundi in East Africa and Chadrrack is from West Africa. Our cultures are all about family and looking after children, so as soon as we had the space and the time to dedicate to kids who need a safe home, we knew it was something we would do.

– Imma

Imma’s need to care for children and help give them better lives is driven by her experiences in fleeing her home in Burrundi as a refugee and making her way via a refugee camp to New Zealand more than 20 years ago.

“I know what it is like to feel lost and alone and how important it is to believe that there is someone looking out for you. It breaks my heart to hear about kids caught up in family violence situations. I know people struggled during COVID lockdowns. Fear about not having enough food, money or losing their home, made life very difficult for a lot of people.

“It’s great to be able to give something back. We are blessed to have a home where we have the space to care for children who need us,” Imma added.

Initially accredited as emergency and respite carers, Imma and Chadrrack looked after 10-year-old Erin* one weekend. Erin immediately felt a connection with Imma and Chadrrack and asked her case manager if she would be able to stay with them for a longer time. Soon after, Imma and Chadrrack were accredited as long-term foster carers and Erin has been with them since.

“She is an amazing kid who has completely come out of her shell in the last few months. We love to see her confidence grow and to support her to become a happy little girl. We are also looking after Amari*, a six-year-old boy and the two of them get on so well. They play very happily together like brother and sister and they love to spend time with my 16-year-old daughter. We go everywhere together.”

Imma volunteers to support the advancement of women with a refugee background.

“Just like foster care, it’s important to me to be able to give back to the community. We help women access English classes and support them to look for employment opportunities. But one of the most important things is to give them somewhere to go and meet together. They have a reason to leave the house and meet other people. Women can feel very isolated and by supporting them, we are supporting families and linking them to the services they need.”

Imma is known for her spectacular sewing and dressmaking skills, saying this is a labour of love.

“I love working with the colours and patterns of traditional dress and it helps me feel close to my culture and my community. Who doesn’t love a little brightness and colour in their life?” she laughs.

With her joy for life and love of children, Imma says Chadrrack tells her if they had a bigger house, she would be caring for at least 20 children.

It’s true, kids bring so much joy to my life and I want to see more people get involved and provide a safe home for them. There are so many kids who need that help for a little while and it’s such a wonderful thing to do.

– Imma

*Names changed for privacy reasons.