Vannis Waléxandra

    When I first got to Melbourne, I didn’t have any friends nor the money to go out. I was stranded in a city where I afforded only basic sustenance and nothing more. I had never been to a nightclub, a bar or a cafe.

    Not only was making friends with native people hard, so it was with international students who had lived a life like a ‘normal person’. Coming from a small foreign town, the amount of ‘normal people’s common sense’ that I lacked was scarily large. By the end of the first year of my Bachelor of Commerce I had lost my appetite to live, not to mention studying. My grades dropped from honours to passes. I had to take a half-year break to recover from my traumatic experiences in this ‘other people’s world’. 

    It was during this half-year mental recovery when I walked into Visy Care Hub and was introduced to the Barista Upskill Program. I got to meet up with other disadvantaged kids around my age. I felt empowered, mostly because I knew I wasn’t seen as less than others. There was always hope for our future, hope from the trainers, the youth workers, council workers in the building and eventually ourselves. 

    In less than half a year’s time I was trained hands on in the café, step by step, every Friday from 9am to 5pm. 

    The level of detail and patience we got from our trainer Jeremy Stothers was exceptionally high. I could say, having worked in hospo for five years now, I have never received as good training in any other venues, not in a local café, nor in a five-star hotel. It was truly a community focused program, where equality, common respect was given freely by everyone. It was a good stepping stone for the society where for marginalised people, whether by ethnicity, academic levels or sexuality, basic respect and due equality frequently has to be earned by heaps of extra work. 

    At least, at the end of the program, I had the confidence and skills to start working for these things. By the way, this confidence only started growing thanks to others’ kind words, tangible help and having a community that made me feel belonged. Since I felt belonged, I have always known that there is a place for me, and I am something. 

    With the gift of knowledge, skill, and sense of belonging from this program, I stepped back into the workforce, and in five years’ time, I progressed from a junior barista to head barista, café allrounder, restaurant section waiter, bartender, supervisor and bar manager. I finished a Bachelor of Music and am continuing a Master of Accounting and Finance. 

    I moved to Adelaide this July, and when I put up a FaceBook job-hunting post I had a whole list of interviews lined up within 2 days’ time. From new bars and restaurants, popular CBD venues, beachfront venues to world class five-star hotels, I held the power to choose for my preferences. 

    Life has been interesting and fun, there have been ups and downs, but I know there is a place for me and I know I am always something. I must add, this feeling was a gift given freely by others. 


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