One morning each week for more than two years, Jane Marx would ride her bicycle from her North Fitzroy home to the Collingwood housing commission flats on Hoddle Street. As she stepped out of the elevator onto the 16th floor, she would be met by the smell of traditional Ethiopian cooking emanating from the small apartment of a young refugee mother. Jane’s one hour role as an ASRC English tutor regularly became a four hour immersion into the life of a woman who, in broken English, would tell tales of her time in Africa, and celebrate the freedom of our country. “She never ever complained about having it quite hard. She was very happy to be here, and extraordinarily happy that her children would have an opportunity that she never had.”
Marx describes this as one of the best experiences she’s had in Melbourne, and it is obvious that her close encounters with people from incredibly divergent socio-economic backgrounds has largely shaped her life’s work. “I think if more people got to know individual asylum seekers on a personal level – if they were to really sit down and speak to them – I’d like to think most people’s opinions would change.”
The social entrepreneur, Framedmagazine founder, refugee activist and Politics graduate is bringing her life experience together as a catalyst for her next big adventure. Long St. Espresso is the innovation of Jane and her husband, Francois. The not-for-profit organisation will find its home as a specialty coffee shop in the urban hub of Parramatta. Here, the town’s refugee community will have the opportunity to receive their certificate two in hospitality, develop their English skills and forge important contacts for future employment. “Espresso style coffee will be at the heart of what we do, but we will explore other brewing methods such as filter coffee and cold drip and siphon,” says Jane. “We are partnering with Parramatta TAFE and the Hills Holroyd Migrant Resource Centre, both have been really enthusiastic. We are going to cover all the costs of certificate two training and provide a workplace for the 40 hours work experience that is a necessary component of the course.”
The name alludes to a street of the same name in Cape Town, and is indicative of the powerful influence South Africa has had on the couple.“Long Street is well known for its cultural diversity. There are a lot of bars, restaurants and cafes, but also bookstores and a cinema. It’s a really beautiful area where a lot of different people and cultures mix,” says Jane. “During Apartheid the cinema and bookshops there played quite a significant role in screening films and selling books that were anti-Apartheid.”
Francois was born in a small farming community in South Africa during the white segregation policies of Apartheid, and remembers the impact gaining employment in hospitality had when he left his home aged 18. “I have been travelling for the last nine years or so, and have had to find work to support myself. The only industry that would employ non-nationals with no higher education qualifications was the hospitality industry.”
Francois, who recently graduated in International Relations, reflects on how his childhood and travels have cultivated the perspective to initiate a project like Long St. Espresso. “Throughout my life I have seen what it is to be truly powerless, and in a way, giving people the opportunity to prove to themselves that they are capable, to empower them, is really what motivates both Jane and I.”
Although Long St. Espresso will focus on training and employment, the pair believes the benefits will extend far beyond the walls of the cafe. When asked what the biggest obstacle facing refugees was today, Jane replied: “In a word or two? Social exclusion. Employment is related to so many other things – having a job helps your English skills, it helps with self confidence. It helps refugees, as it helps every one of us, to form a sense of community.”
Jane recognises a level of hostility towards refugees in Australia, and says that a character reference and experience in Australian context is vital for refugees to attain secure employment. “I am hoping that through this social enterprise we can start to change those perceptions on refugees once Australians see that they are willing and able to contribute to Australian society in exactly the same way the people who were born here are.”
Both Jane and Francois gained significant experience working in a refugee-based social enterprise with the extremely successful Social Studioin Collingwood. The fashion school, designer clothing label, cafe and printing studio provides a holistic experience for young refugees in the community and has been a great inspiration for the husband and wife team. “Jane and Francois have been fantastic supporters and volunteers of The Social Studio,” says founder Grace McQuilten.
While the next step in the journey is as tangible as Jane and Francois moving from inner-city Melbourne to her parent’s house on the south coast of NSW, their ideas are boundless. “One idea we have is to make ourselves redundant, to give the business over to the people who have been involved with it,” says Jane. “Another idea we’ve been playing with is going further afield in to specialty coffee, looking at the roasting process and dealing with the people who actually produce the beans.”
Experiencing the huge disparity between the haves and have-nots in South Africa regularly reminds these two how lucky they are, and both assert that to find your own happiness you should seek to enable others to find theirs.
“We have already succeeded in many aspects of life,” says Francois. “Success is what you believe it to be, and in that, if we are able to help people who are struggling, who feel isolated and who might feel that they have little self-worth, then in my opinion we have succeeded.”
If you would like to be involved, or perhaps you require more information, Jane Marx can be contacted via her online magazine, Framed, at www.framedmagazine.com.au.