No family and no income: supporting international students through COVID

16 Jul 2020

By Emily Ferguson

International students might not be the first group that comes to mind when you think of those impacted by isolation in recent months.

But for Aaron*, an international student from the Philippines, the loss of both income and the ability to return home to family have made this isolating time extremely difficult.

“As soon as COVID happened, where I work at a café (food) factory, they reduced my shifts from five to two and also reduced my rate of pay so I was earning much less income. I used to go home (to the Philippines) once a year, but there are more cases there now and so I will have to stay here and figure it out for myself,” he said.

Vicki Eldridge supports international students from Western Sydney University through the ministry of BASIC Church in Western Sydney.

She observed, “It’s been fairly traumatic for a lot of the students and they are feeling more vulnerable than ever. The government encouraged them to return home, but some couldn’t because the borders were closed, so they are cut off from their family. They’ve lost their income and are not entitled to Jobkeeper, so the financial hit has been significant.”

Over the past three years, BASIC Church has established a community meal in the university village of Western Sydney University, feeding and building relationships with up to 120 students every fortnight. As a result, they were positioned to help.

Photo: Some of the international students at the pre-COVID-19 community meal hosted by BASIC church.

“The meal has been a key relational connection and it means that we have been able to ‘adopt’ more than a dozen international students for regular food delivery and pastoral support,” said Steve Hodgson, Pastor at BASIC Church.

With many students feeling isolated, trapped and afraid of contracting the coronavirus with no access to Medicare, BASIC’s presence has been a real support.

Joy* is an international student from Nepal who has been greatly helped.

“The time of COVID impacted me a lot (because) I lost my job,” she said. “It was a very difficult time for me to manage everything like food and rent. When I met with Vicki and her team, I got a lot of help for my groceries. Vicki brought me a lot of fruits and vegetables to meet my need of daily dietary intake. She reassured me in such a difficult situation because I was far from my family and husband too.”

Vicki said BASIC Church has been positioned for such a time as this. “We represent a form of family to them,” she said. “It’s about being willing to listen to their stories and concerns, and to be Jesus’ hands and feet, demonstrating what unconditional love looks like so they know they’re not alone.”

To date, our 2020 Winter appeal has raised more than $6,000 to support ministries like BASIC’s work with international students.  Donate to this year’s appeal HERE.

* Student names have been changed.