Conversations Across Cultures

It was a bleak, winter night in Parramatta but we had been having fun with several friends who had warmed themselves with a BBQ dinner, hot showers, freshly cleaned clothes and lively conversation. We had started to get ready to pack up, waiting for one load of clothes to finish its drying cycle. A few friends remained chatting with volunteers but there was one man seated alone on an orange chair. He was quite an old man, well into his seventies I think, and he looked lonely sitting there by himself. I decided to sit down beside him and see if he wanted to chat.

It was pretty obvious from the outset that he spoke little English. He pointed to the van and I understood that his washing was still in the dryer, which was obviously why he was sitting, waiting. Through a combination of a few English words, hand signals and a trusty iphone, I soon learned that he had come from Syria and was staying with relatives while trying to figure out where to live.

He animatedly talked about the dangers of living in Syria and the everyday terror of living in a war torn country. He showed me photos of several of his children who were dotted all over the world. His eyes filled with pride over the beauty of one of his daughters, and the fear was etched on his face when he showed me one of his sons, who must have still been in Syria. It was an extraordinary conversation, made so much more special somehow by the absence of a shared language.

After about 15 minutes, a volunteer who had been helping with tidying up around the van came up and spoke to me and asked if the man spoke Arabic. Of course he did! I’d been struggling to communicate for 15 minutes and here was a young woman who could speak the man’s language!!! I was then able to ask so many more of my questions and find out so much more about his life. He asked us about Orange Sky and what we all did. We all chatted and laughed about nothing and everything.

Another of the volunteers removed the man’s belongings from the dryer and put the still warm clothes carefully into the man’s shopping jeep. The man spoke softly to the volunteer who spoke his language and said, “you people provide a beautiful service”. He pushed his little jeep forward and shook hands with each of us, then waved goodbye as he walked away. It struck me that this interaction typifies the magic of Orange Sky, the basic but respectful act of washing someone’s clothes, engaging with them in simple yet powerful connections, and parting company from them knowing that they, and you, are enriched by the experience.

Help to positively connect some of the 116,000 Australians doing it tough.

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Orange Sky Australia • 2020 • 17 Dover Street, Albion Queensland 4010 • (07) 3067 5800 • ABN: 85890622990 • All donations over $2 are fully tax deductible • We are a registered charity with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC)


The silver lining to isolation

As I sit here writing this in my home office after a few months living in this ‘new normal,’ I’ve started thinking about what the silver linings are to all of these new challenges.

It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has presented its fair share of challenges, but I’ve found that changing your perspective during these times can turn a dumping wave into a chance to hang ten and surf through some pretty awesome experiences!

One thing I have come to learn in life is that when we go through change, its inevitably followed by a wave of stress. We learn to adapt and mould with all our new surroundings, but one thing that typically gets missed when trying to keep our head above water is the sudden influx of new and exciting opportunities that come with it. Here are just a few that I’ve encountered…

1. We might be physically distanced, but we're more socially connected than ever.


Having some time on my own, I have begun to think about all the great people in my life who I had wanted to catch up with but had been too ‘busy’ to do so. Whilst being isolated, I have found the perfect opportunity to call these people up to reminisce and get an update of what has been happening in their lives – something I may not have done if hadn’t it been for all this pesky isolation! In fact, one of these calls turned into an online games session (that lasted for hours) and left as all laughing and feeling much more connected.

2. Being alone (sometimes) is the best form of self care


In a world were we are addicted to being busy, doing more and accomplishing more – I have found it super refreshing and highly valuable to take time away from ‘doing things’, and instead spend time listening to my own thoughts, thinking about where my life has been and what I am thinking of next.

Some of these thoughts were more surprising than I expected! Without getting too philosophical, it’s helped me connect with myself a little more, which has (ironically) helped me connect with others around me more authentically – and for that I’m thankful!

3. An appreciation for the little things in life


Once we overcome this pandemic, one thing I know for sure is that isolation will give all of us a much bigger appreciate of a face-to-face connection – something we may have previously taken for granted. I feel the saying ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ will be very much evident when we are released back into the big wide world! A couple of months ago, the idea of having a drink with a friend in the city was neither here nor there. Now, this is something people are yearning for and will no doubt be cherished and truly satisfying when we experience it again.

There is a law of physics that says, ‘energy cannot be created nor destroyed’, instead it just changes and takes shape in different forms. I like to think that this is a pattern in nature, and the same stands true for positive experiences and opportunities – they never go away, they just take different forms and may require us to step back and look at things in a new light to see them again.

Being isolated shouldn’t mean a loss of connection, it just gives us an opportunity to connect differently.

Orange Sky Australia • 2020 • 17 Dover Street, Albion Queensland 4010 • (07) 3067 5800 • ABN: 85890622990 • All donations over $2 are fully tax deductible • We are a registered charity with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC)


My Experience on the Street

Ciaran was a participant in this year’s Filthy Rich and Homeless series on SBS. He took some time to write down his experience and share what it was like to sit down in an orange chair and chat with an Orange Sky volunteer.

Throughout my whole experience [on Filthy, Rich and Homeless], I had many conversations with people experiencing homelessness. One thing I learnt, and really took away, is that every single person you see sleeping rough on the streets has a story. The amount of stories I heard where it was something in life completely out of their control that led them down the path to homelessness was devastating. I was really interested to just hear their experience, and more importantly, let them tell it to me. 
What surprised me was how much those experiencing homelessness have to worry about THEIR safety from the rest of society. I was told by one lovely man that he sleeps during the day and stays awake at night all because he is less likely to get attacked. 

I came across Orange Sky in Newtown and I think the idea behind Orange Sky is brilliant and so powerful! I walked past and saw a van with a few people who I’d seen around the streets in the previous days all sitting around with their clothes and chatting. I decided to check it out. One of the Orange Sky volunteers immediately came over to me and was so friendly, which was so refreshing after not having a genuine interaction with someone in a couple of days. He asked me how I was, how my day was going and would I like my clothes cleaned – which was the first time someone genuinely showed they cared about me in a couple of days and felt so refreshing. 
Orange Sky is such a vital service to those experiencing homelessness and is a service they can count on every week. It is something that is stable in their life when everything else is unstable, and no matter how hard the week gets, they can go to the same spot and have a genuine conversation and get their clothes washed.

I went into the experience thinking the hardest thing would be having no access to shelter and food. I wasn’t wrong, that was REALLY difficult. But to put things into perspective on how hard homelessness is, what was even harder, was the toll it took on my mental health. That isolation and not feeling like you belong as part of society.
I think the biggest take away I got from the experience, relating to connecting with those experiencing homelessness, is treating them like a mate and no different. Next time you see someone sleeping rough, giving money is great, but how about smiling, asking them how their day was and if you have the time, sitting down and having a five minute chat. That would’ve made me feel so much better if someone took the time to do that with me. The other big take away that I mentioned above was you don’t know someone else’s story, so don’t judge. 

Hearing about Kyla who was only 13 when she was sexually assaulted by her own uncle – that was really tough for me to hear. After hearing many stories of sexual assault and domestic violence throughout the experience, I realised that for a lot of these people experiencing homelessness, they saw ‘being homeless’ as a safer option to their current living situation, if you can wrap your head around that.
People experiencing homelessness are already in such a vulnerable state dealing with mental health issues amongst many other issues, imagine on top of that being ‘invisible’ to society? It is so horrific to imagine, and just getting a slight taste of what it’s like to be invisible by society made me realise that no one should ever feel like that. Having a genuine and non judgmental conversation makes us feel worthy and feel good about ourselves. Those experiencing homelessness are already going through so much, and we can make their day slightly better by having a short genuine interaction or conversation with them.

Orange Sky Australia • 2020 • 17 Dover Street, Albion Queensland 4010 • (07) 3067 5800 • ABN: 85890622990 • All donations over $2 are fully tax deductible • We are a registered charity with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC)


The Next Generation of Innovators

No fundraising effort is too small. Here at Orange Sky Australia, we see and appreciate every little thing that goes towards growing our community and helping our friends doing it tough.

We recently spoke to Eloise, who manages all of Orange Sky’s incoming messages through our emails, website and social media accounts. From participating in The Sudsy Challenge, gifting Orange Sky merchandise, selling toys to donate the proceeds to Orange Sky or aspiring to be the next Nic and Lucas, Eloise has heard some pretty cool stories.

“It is always a different day when I come in to work and I love that I can speak with many people from different walks of life. The best part about my job is hearing amazing stories from our supporters, and being able to provide support to our friends in need of a wash or shower,” she said.

We asked Eloise for three of her favourite stories of people doing amazing things in support of our friends…

Sebastian


Our friends and volunteers might be physically distanced at the moment, but that doesn’t mean that the connection has stopped. Nine-year-old Sebastian has taken it upon himself to make soap and donate 30 percent of profits to three charities – including Orange Sky. We are blown away by Sebastian’s hard work and dedication to helping others during this tough time.

“My name is Sebastian, I am nine years old and I have been making hand made soap and donating 30 percent to charities. I have chosen three charities, they are Orange Sky, Beyond Blue and Mission Australia. I chose these charities because what they do is amazing.”

Sebastian now has his own website, which you can check out here and buy some soap to support Orange Sky.

Grace & Evie


Grace and Evie spent the day at their Grandma’s work when they were home sick from school. They decided to set up a shop of their own to raise money for Orange Sky, selling office supplies, stationary and stuffed toys.

The girls raised $7.60 and were thrilled to be able to donate it towards our friends doing it tough.

St Rita's College, Clayfield


More than 120 girls from St Rita’s College, Rosa House took part in a belated Sudsy Challenge. Their goal was $1,000 and they absolutely smashed it by raising $3,888 by reaching out to friends, family and the other school houses.

The Sudsy Challenge will be back later this year, so make sure you’re following us on Facebook to find out how you can get involved!

Eloise told us that every dollar donated to Orange Sky was important.

“Each person had their own idea on how to make a difference for both Orange Sky and our friends doing it tough. Every little bit counts and we’re so grateful for any support from the community.”

At Orange Sky, we are constantly inspired by the next (and current!) generation of innovators – their social conscious, creative fundraising ideas and desire to constantly give back the community.

We’re excited to share that you can now host your own online fundraiser to support Orange Sky and ensure that we can keep delivering our service.

Orange Sky Australia • 2020 • 17 Dover Street, Albion Queensland 4010 • (07) 3067 5800 • ABN: 85890622990 • All donations over $2 are fully tax deductible • We are a registered charity with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC)


A letter to my son, Levi

To my dear son Levi,

I am writing this letter in May, 2020 and it’s during a time quite like no other! (Well I say that, but I don’t really know what our life will be like in the future.) As I write this, I am fortunate to be working from home and sitting next to me (also working) is your beautiful mother, Natasha. We have been doing this for the past eight weeks and miraculously we have fallen into a seamless routine of a morning walk, coffee and then straight to the home office for non-stop meetings and work. It wasn’t always this way.

You see, there is a virus in our community which has changed life as we know it. It wasn’t that long ago where we would all be out and about travelling, connecting and enjoying new environments and opportunities. But the introduction of coronavirus has meant that connection doesn’t quite look how it used to. Shops, cafes, bars and workplaces are for the most part closed and where we used to hug, handshake and high five, we now stand 1.5m apart and connect behind the safety of face masks and hand sanitizer.

One thing I have learnt from these past few months is just how much I miss the opportunity of connecting with those around me. Be it friends, colleagues or even strangers at the coffee shop. A simple conversation can be so powerful, and now that it’s missing, I have suddenly realised that I took it for granted. Working for Orange Sky, I should have known just how special a conversation is, for I have had so many while sitting on orange chairs at shift.

For a moment in my day, I could sit and look someone in the eye and talk about anything. Over the years, I have had so many amazing chats and I honestly believe they have helped shape my views on the world in so many different ways. While we might now have to stand a little further apart, continuing this conversation and connection is so important and I am proud to be part of the team that makes this happen every day.

I don’t know what the future is going to look like or where Orange Sky is going to be, but one thing I do know is that the power of people and connection is going to be more important than ever before. I am going to do my part by continuing to sit on those orange chairs and share stories or jokes (you’ll get to know soon that Dad jokes are my speciality!), and for a moment in someone’s day, truly connect in conversation.

Levi, if you are anything like me, I hope you always find a way to keep that conversation going.

Dad.

Orange Sky Australia • 2020 • 17 Dover Street, Albion Queensland 4010 • (07) 3067 5800 • ABN: 85890622990 • All donations over $2 are fully tax deductible • We are a registered charity with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC)


What Reconciliation Means To Me

My name is Judith and I am the Program Manager for Remote and Indigenous Communities at Orange Sky. I’ve worked across remote communities in a range of contexts for a number of years, and have heard many stories and seen firsthand the consequences of past action at an individual, community and government level – but this does not make me an expert.
Reconciliation is important to me because without it, reaching an equitable and harmonious Australia will be less likely. The beauty and strength of our country needs to be reflected for and among all its people, not only some.

For me, reconciliation means acknowledging and doing our bit to right the past. It’s about coming together, getting to know one another and working alongside each other now and into the future.

It’s about keeping equity in the front of our minds at all times, which means sometimes we should preference others voices over our own or step aside to let others come forward.

Reconciliation is important to Orange Sky because we support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across all our services; metro, regional and remote. In remote areas, we work alongside communities and organisations and have a commitment to ensuring our services are appropriate and relevant. One of the most important things for us is taking the time to listen to as many people in a community before setting up a new service.

While Orange Sky’s focus is on providing a space for connection through our laundry and shower services, we are committed to providing employment opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It’s important that we work alongside employees to provide a locally appropriate service and help to improve health and well-being outcomes for the community as a way of working towards reconciliation.

During Reconciliation Week and beyond, I encourage you to learn and grow your understanding by reading, reflecting and talking with others, and acting at all times to build an equitable and positive future for all.

At Orange Sky, we’ll continue to provide ways for staff and volunteers to learn, grow and act on reconciliation to help improve outcomes for Australia’s First People.

Here’s some resources we’re diving into:

Learn more about Reconciliation Week

Learn More

What is a Laundry Pod?

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The Next Generation of Innovators

No fundraising effort is too small. Here at Orange Sky Australia, we see and appreciate every little thing that goes towards growing our community and helping our friends doing it tough.

We recently spoke to Eloise, who manages all of Orange Sky’s incoming messages through our emails, website and social media accounts. From participating in The Sudsy Challenge, gifting Orange Sky merchandise, selling toys to donate the proceeds to Orange Sky or aspiring to be the next Nic and Lucas, Eloise has heard some pretty cool stories.

“It is always a different day when I come in to work and I love that I can speak with many people from different walks of life. The best part about my job is hearing amazing stories from our supporters, and being able to provide support to our friends in need of a wash or shower,” she said.

We asked Eloise for three of her favourite stories of people doing amazing things in support of our friends…

Sebastian


Our friends and volunteers might be physically distanced at the moment, but that doesn’t mean that the connection has stopped. Nine-year-old Sebastian has taken it upon himself to make soap and donate 30 percent of profits to three charities – including Orange Sky. We are blown away by Sebastian’s hard work and dedication to helping others during this tough time.

“My name is Sebastian, I am nine years old and I have been making hand made soap and donating 30 percent to charities. I have chosen three charities, they are Orange Sky, Beyond Blue and Mission Australia. I chose these charities because what they do is amazing.”

Sebastian now has his own website, which you can check out here and buy some soap to support Orange Sky.

Grace & Evie


Grace and Evie spent the day at their Grandma’s work when they were home sick from school. They decided to set up a shop of their own to raise money for Orange Sky, selling office supplies, stationary and stuffed toys.

The girls raised $7.60 and were thrilled to be able to donate it towards our friends doing it tough.

St Rita's College, Clayfield


More than 120 girls from St Rita’s College, Rosa House took part in a belated Sudsy Challenge. Their goal was $1,000 and they absolutely smashed it by raising $3,888 by reaching out to friends, family and the other school houses.

The Sudsy Challenge will be back later this year, so make sure you’re following us on Facebook to find out how you can get involved!

Eloise told us that every dollar donated to Orange Sky was important.

“Each person had their own idea on how to make a difference for both Orange Sky and our friends doing it tough. Every little bit counts and we’re so grateful for any support from the community.”

At Orange Sky, we are constantly inspired by the next (and current!) generation of innovators – their social conscious, creative fundraising ideas and desire to constantly give back the community.

We’re excited to share that you can now host your own online fundraiser to support Orange Sky and ensure that we can keep delivering our service.

Orange Sky Australia • 2020 • 17 Dover Street, Albion Queensland 4010 • (07) 3067 5800 • ABN: 85890622990 • All donations over $2 are fully tax deductible • We are a registered charity with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC)


A Mother's Gift

It was a Thursday morning in Brisbane when Lucas and I were out on shift at Wickham Park. This inner-city park has a lot of significance for me; it’s where my Mum took me one morning when I was growing up to help volunteer – an experience that had a profound impact on my life. It’s also the place where we started Orange Sky alongside our high school food van.

Lucas and I were out on shift meeting with a mentor, who was giving us some feedback on our operations. It’s always a little bit uncomfortable for me dropping in on a shift; I feel like somewhat of an intruder on a special community, as volunteers and friends have such a meaningful connection (I’m also terrible at remembering names!).

I was standing at the back of the laundry van talking to two volunteers, Kathleen and Tammy, when out of the corner of my eye, I saw a woman sit down on an orange chair. She was talking to herself and looked quite down. I tried to maintain conversation and engagement with the volunteers, but I couldn’t help but be distracted by this friend.

I have always found empty orange chairs to be a sign of loneliness, but also the potential for connection with another person. I felt nervous as I walked over and sat down on one of the vacant orange chairs. I introduced myself. I said, “Hi, my name is Nic, do you mind if I ask what your name is?” She said, “I am Dani, nice to meet you.”

I noticed a strong accent. I asked her what was on for the rest of the day and Dani told me she was going to yoga. She said she found yoga and meditating helpful for her, and that she was able to get free classes in exchange for helping out at the studio. I asked how she found out about the studio and she told me she got the confidence to go there after an Orange Sky volunteer, Claire, suggested it to her.

I was intrigued by Dani’s accent, which she said was from California. She told me that Australia is now home and that she has left that part of her life behind. I asked if she missed anything from home. She said not much. Coming to Orange Sky shifts and going to yoga made her feel great and she told me stories of how other volunteers listened to her and made her feel supported. She said that the volunteer, Claire, reminded her of her own Mum because she listened without judgement and was super caring and loving.

Dani didn’t need to say any more, I had goose bumps and tears in my eyes. I knew exactly what she was talking about, because I had felt that special connection in my own life. I had felt that exact same feeling, from that exact same person, because the woman she was talking about was my own Mum, Claire Marchesi.

We kept on talking for the rest of shift until Dani’s washing was done. I could have spoken to her for many more hours. I have not seen Dani since that day, but I often think about that conversation. Dani would have been a few years older than me. We both come from different parts of the world with different upbringings and perspective, however have both felt the same beautiful connection from the same beautiful person.

Human connection is special and complex, but it often stems from the simplest things. In this case, it all started from a simple conversation on an orange chair in a park in Brisbane.

My Mum has given me so much, but this Mother’s Day, I am grateful for the gift of shared perspective, shared understanding and shared connection.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the wonderful Mums out there. 

Help us #continueconnection with friends in need

Learn More

How do I continue connection and stay healthy during this time?

Natalie is the HR Officer at Orange Sky HQ. She loves home decorating, op-shopping and vintage inspired fashion, gazing longingly at shoes, being in or near the water and spending time with her family.


Each night, I snuggle up in bed with my seven-year-old and we talk about our day. Usually our talks are filled with tales of adventures of school ground mischief, occasional disagreements with our sibling and ping pong games.

However, since COVID-19 first hit Australian shores in January 2020, our world has slowly been shrinking. Our trips to beaches, playgrounds and to visit grandparents have dwindled down. In place of sleepovers, we have Facetime calls. Instead of playgrounds, we build cubby houses out of blankets. Instead of bike rides, we jump on the trampoline in our backyard.

So here we are after more than a month of isolation and I’m preparing myself for our usual nightly conversation. As the days have started to blur, I decided to not just to ‘summarise’ our days and what we liked the best, but rather to shift our conversation to what we are most thankful for. 

I thought I would share with you all what I am most grateful for at the moment.

More time

Since mid-March, Orange Sky has asked all employees who are able to work remotely to do so.  It might not be much, but skipping the commute has given me extra minutes every day; minutes I can spend on my own family, on myself or getting that final thing done for my Orange Sky family.

My husband and I, in that first week where we were both found ourselves at home but still sending the kids to school and daycare, got to have the first walk by ourselves in SEVEN YEARS! We walked every day that first week and actually got to have a conversation that was not interrupted by children saying “excuse me, excuse me, excuse me!”  Yes we spoke about the kids (a lot), but we also planned out future travels, our career paths, our hopes and also our fears. Even speaking about the scary, unknown times ahead made everything feel just that little bit better. As the old saying goes – a problem shared is a problem halved.  For that I am grateful.

My health

On March 26, I woke up with a sore throat. I was terrified. Could I seriously have contracted this virus so quickly?  We immediately pulled the kids out of school and daycare.

Never have we ALL been more aware of our breathing.  Even my husband, who is normally super calm, has said to me, “Every once and a while I will sit there and just ‘check’ that I can take a deep breath.”  Now, I am a bit of a hypochondriac at the best of times, but I am thankfully my slight cold-like symptoms resolved within 48 hours after resuming my hayfever tablets.

Our Home

Small business owners have resurrected their previously-failed fruit, vegetable and eggs delivery service, local butchers are delivering meat packs and cafes and restaurants have switched to takeaway. Even our local family-owned IGA is available to us within walking distance through a secluded shaded pathway, so for weeks we can get away without leaving our house and yet still have an abundance of high quality food… for this I am very thankful.

My Connections

Now, more than ever, I am also grateful for the connections in my life.

Grandparents who Facetime daily to read stories to my kids, my sister-in-law who bought us extra nappies when the shelves were literally being stripped bare, our neighbours – who we now catch up on our afternoon walks from across the street, and my personal trainer – who has shifted her bootcamps to online sessions five days a week (I’ve literally never been so sore in my life!). 

I am so thankful to have a strong network of people in my life who look out for me and give my life meaning.

But what about the people that don’t have these things?

All in all, this crisis has made me intensely aware of my privilege in having a safe place to hunker down, a roof over my head, good food, clean clothes and access clean, running water to wash my hands whenever I need to.

Our friends on the street who rely on Orange Sky’s services don’t have a lot of these things.

This pandemic marks the first time in the five years since Orange Sky was founded that our service was paused and we were unable to provide our friends with free laundry, warm showers and genuine conversation.

But thankfully not for long.

As we rejigged our safety procedures and found new ways to deliver our service whilst keeping everybody safe, we’re now more committed than ever to our mission to positively connect communities. 

The fact is though that I’m not on that front line delivering these services. Given that my own medical history and those of my children put us in the ‘high risk’ bucket, what – when trying to socially distance and halt the spread of COVID-19 – can I actually do?

I can help to #continueconnection by starting conversations with people in my community and spreading awareness about the work of Orange Sky.

I can also donate. As I sit here safe in my home, I can pledge to donate to Orange Sky’s efforts for as long as I have the ability to do so. Along with all the other things I am thankful for, I still have a job and an income and I can use this to help keep our vans running.

We are one community experiencing the impact of COVID-19 together – and we need your support to help us #continueconnection