Elizabeth Deserbelles

"We are on someone’s land and contributing to the betterment of our Australian society is the least we can do"

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Elizabeth Deserbelles

Country of origin: Brazil.

Occupation: Community Support Worker. State of Residency: VIC. Favourite place in Australia: Uluru, because it represents the essence of Aboriginal culture, their spirituality and tradition. Biggest surprise when arriving to Australia: The Australian accent!

By Trini Abascal

Elizabeth Deserbelles is a Community Support Worker. In 2014 she started a self-funded movement called “Warriors of Light” through which more than 3000 meals have been served to those in need. However, her passion for helping people started earlier. She was recognized by the Prime Minister John Howard for her contribution to the community as she volunteered for seven years at a nursing home. She founded the first reflexology business in Australia that employed people with vision impairment. For this, she was nominated for the 2002 Prime Minister’s Employer of the Year Awards for her Strong commitment to Employing People with Disabilities.

Contributions to Victoria

  • Through her self-funded project “Warriors of Light”, she provides a true dining experience to the less privileged in our community.

  • Develops a positive sense of community by respecting diversity, encouraging caring relationships, fostering feelings of belonging, and acknowledging the Wurundjeri people as Traditional Custodians (50% of her diners are from an Aboriginal background).

  • As a Community Support Worker, she aids clients in their own home/program and in the community to allow them to function more safely and independently. She provides emotional support to clients, their families and friends.

Tell us your story

  Elizabeth with her children.

Elizabeth with her children.

In March 1989, I migrated to Australia with my two sons, aged 4 and 2, to be reunited with my at the time partner of 2 years who had left Brazil in 1987 for Melbourne. After 18 months waiting for my visa, I was excited to start a new life and provide the best upbringing to my children. Unfortunately, my excitement did not last long as soon after I found out that my partner had a pregnant girlfriend. This revelation made me feel lost and vulnerable. I was in a country miles away where I knew nobody. I was left alone with my children most of the time. The day I confronted him about his lack of support and disrespect and he reacted with physical violence. That was the first time I was hit by a man and I decided that it would also be the last! I was shattered and fearful but I also had strength and a high self-esteem. I grabbed my two boys, went down to the street and rang the police from a public phone. I was taken to a Women’s Refuge. All this happened within two months of being in Australia. From there on I was put in contact with an interpreter and social worker who diligently assisted me with work and accommodation. My first job in Australia was as a welder at a brass bed manufacturer. I worked strenuously hard, but was happy and grateful that I was alive and that my children were safe and healthy. I slowly started building my new life as a single mother: rented a house, became proficient at welding and got on with my life.

Later that year I met the man who I married in 1991 and with whom I had two beautiful children. By choice I became a “stay at home” mum enjoying watching my children’s development. However, while they were at school, I volunteered twice a week at a nursing home from 1997 to 2003. In 2000, I was awarded with a Certificate of Recognition by the Prime Minister of Australia John Howard for my contribution to my community and Australia. When my children were older, I started a reflexology business to offer employment to people with vision impairment. It was the first business in Australia of its kind. My initiative was deemed uplifting and highly commendable by politicians. My business was nominated for the 2003 Prime Minister’s Employer of the Year Awards for Recognition of Strong Commitment to Employing People with Disabilities. Even though the business did not thrive as expected, it impelled me to open a Wellness Centre in Perth's CBD. We had impressive clientele and actively supported many charities. We were featured in local magazines and in the “Just Add Water” program.

My business was blooming when tragedy struck: my husband took his own life on March 2009. My world turned upside down! Not only my family structure was broken but I was also left with a debt of nearly one million dollars. I lost my business and all the assets accumulated during 20 years of marriage. I pulled myself together and faced my predicament with courage. However, the most challenging time of my life came when I found out that two of my children had been sexually molested. I believed I did not deserve to be alive as I had failed to protect my children. These very hard experiences pushed me to begin a profound inner journey of reconnection with my true essence.

Since relocating to Melbourne in 2009, I have worked as a Lifestyle Assistant and Community Support Worker. In 2014, I started a self-funded movement called Warriors of Light with the purpose of rebuilding a sense of community and to encourage people to reach out to those in need. I began filling up 15 paper bags with homemade food, drinks and fruits and handing them out in Collingwood, every fortnight. Friends and family volunteered by cooking meals, donating items and distributing bags. However, I wanted to provide the disadvantaged community with a real dining experience! In 2016 my dream came true when the Brotherhood of St Laurence allowed me to use a community hall in Collingwood. Every second Sunday since then, tables are set with a choice of 2 main courses and dessert. To date more than 3000 meals have been served by our wonderful volunteers who make sure that each person feel special.

As I love writing and have a journalism background. I have written a poetry book which will be published late September. I am also in the process of writing another one which will convey my story in Australia. 

to date more than 3000 meals have been served to the less privileged.

CHallenges

Building my new life - My biggest challenge in Australia was learning a new skill (oxy welding) in a short frame of time as I needed to support my children. Working in a brass bed factory environment and grasping the Australian slang was a very difficult task. We slept on the floor after leaving the Women’s Refuge as I rented a house with no furniture. These were tough days because I missed the comfort of my house in Rio and the family support I always had there.

Building Trust - Building trust with the homeless community including people with addictions, mental health and emotional issues was a challenge at the beginning of “Warriors of Life”. However, I built this trust by: listening to the members of that community, getting to know them, being consistent with the community dinners and by being respectful and helpful to them.

Setting up - To offer a true dining experience to the disadvantaged I needed several items (i.e. tablecloths, cutlery, flowers) and volunteers to help as waiters, cooks and greeters. This was resolved by purchasing items from second hand shops and asking for donations from friends. I also created a Facebook page for Warriors of Light and through there I promoted the dinners and people began to offer to volunteer.

Contrasts

Values – In Brazil we have a strong sense of community and strong family values. I think Australians value other things such as having a conscious way of living, their respect for the environment, their acceptance of other cultures and healthy habits.

Culture - I think Latin American people are prouder of their own culture. I believe that in Australia people are more culturally diverse, so there is not a unified culture. This creates a rich experience to be able to interact with people from many different backgrounds, nationalities and religion.                        

Piece of advice

Contribute - We must remember that we are on someone’s land and contributing to the betterment of our Australian society is the least we can do. Learn about the community and its needs and then become consistently active towards making a positive difference, always with gratitude for the opportunity of being here and for being part of a culture that goes back 60,000 years ago. Do it without expecting any rewards or recognition. Do it because it is part of our true nature.

  Elizabeth next to a painting showcasing Brazil.

Elizabeth next to a painting showcasing Brazil.

IN THE NEXT FEW YEARS...

Elizabeth sees herself continue writing children’s books and novels. She wants to inspire people, to encourage and to help everyone to unveil the powerful beings that we naturally are. She wants to continue with her project “Warriors of Light”. She is confident that the numbers of meals to be served through her project will keep increasing!  If you wish to contact Elizabeth email us at latinstoriesaustralia@gmail.com