Breaking barriers

Dr Luz Estela de Fatima Restrepo OAM at her home in Maldon.

When Luz Restrepo received an email telling her she had been awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for her service to the multicultural community of Victoria, the Maldon resident thought it was spam!

“It’s incredible. I feel so proud. I am the only Latina this year and I think in the history of the awards, there’s only ever been two Latinas. It is a great opportunity to show what I can achieve,” she said.

Luz arrived in Australia 14 years ago as a refugee.

“For migrants, when you arrive here, it’s like your second birthday,” she said.

“July 23, 2010, my life changed.

“I am a political refugee. In Colombia there is no freedom of speech when you are advocating for social changes. Social leaders in Colombia are killed or are refugees.

“I had to start from scratch and create a new future. I found that I still had many barriers to overcome, but I had my education and my capacity to re-learn and I was determined to give back a lot of value in return for the opportunity Australia gave me and my family.

“This experience has made me a better human, as I now understand first hand the challenges individuals facing significant social and economic barriers must overcome.”

Luz studied medicine in her native Colombia, graduated as a GP and worked in casualty, while at the same time was a mother to two young daughters.

Finding that she enjoyed hospital administration more, she moved into an administrative role gaining a Graduate Diploma in Business Administration and Marketing and an MA in Communication.

When she arrived in Australia, at 45 years of age, Luz had no English, little money, no connections and no career prospects.

Three years later she founded SisterWorks, an organisation providing employment and entrepreneurship support for migrant women to gain economic independence. She also co-founded Migrant Women in Business, a national network that supports migrant women in micro-businesses to thrive and grow and become community leader. And now, she is a candidate in the upcoming Mount Alexander Shire Council elections.

“Throughout my journey, I have identified systemic challenges that must be addressed to better welcome migrant families and fully integrate them into our small communities,” Luz said.

“Migrant families have much to contribute socially, culturally, and economically.

“One crucial area we need to improve is increasing the representation of women, especially migrant women, in decision-making spaces.

“As a connector, I can facilitate dialogue between community leaders and the shire, helping to find common ground and work towards our collective goals.

“Together, we can build a more inclusive and vibrant community.”