How We Began

When I invite you to my home I want to make that a happy experience for you, I want to make you feel comfortable and welcome. This is the work of SCARF. Refugee arrivals have been invited to join us here in our Wollongong home, and we, the community, are their hosts.


My husband and I met one of the first families to arrive in Wollongong under the Federal Government’s Humanitarian Visa Program. They were a family of nine from the Sudan who had spent 4 years in Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya.

Sharyn Mackenzie, Co-founder

Sharyn Mackenzie, Co-founder

Their needs were many and we began by helping them with learning English. The children had never been to school. That was in 2003.

Through this family, we met other families who were arriving in Wollongong and needing more personal support than could be offered by the funded service providers. And so SCARF came into being!

I advertised in the Illawarra Mercury and a handful of people   became involved in befriending these newest members of our community. We decided to set up a local organisation, register it as a charity and seek broader support from the host community.  20 people responded to a local newspaper article about the SCARF launch. We wanted to support children with their schooling, providing home tutors and starting a Homework Centre.

Back then, there were about 10 families in our region. Today we have  over 1000 refugees  registered with us, representing nearly 400 households. Most have been out of country and living in camps or other desperate conditions for at least five and in some cases, up to 20, years. 200  volunteers work now with the community through SCARF’s varied programs.

UOW Chancellor's Awards, 2009

SCARF’s Sharyn Mackenzie and Elizabeth Lual
with Chancellor Jillian Broadbent at the UOW
Chancellor’s Awards, 2009

SCARF’s many achievements since 2005 have been possible only because of our fabulous engagement with the community. We’ve done it all without any ongoing government support.

The Wollongong community deserves recognition for their wonderful spirit of generosity toward our new arrivals. Volunteers from every walk of life, bringing their diverse skills, their compassion, their enthusiasm and commitment have joined together to reach out and support our newest community members.



“What they have lived through is certainly beyond our experience and sometimes even beyond our comprehension. Yet, they have so much to teach us… they walk with such dignity, they hold no bitterness for what has happened in the past… they arrive with hearts grateful for the opportunity that has now been given to them.



We need to be patient and understanding as refugee families make the transition from a life of injustice and heartache to a land offering hope, a future rich in promises of safety, security and opportunity.”

Sharyn Mackenzie

Co-Founder and Community and Volunteer Coordinator, SCARF