LWF supporter Monika Kollaras tells us her story and explains why she is passionate about helping others forced to flee.
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Monika’s journey: from refugee to empowering others

Leading Women Fund supporter and former refugee Monika Kollaras tells us her story and explains why she is passionate about helping others forced to flee.

In 1991, Monika and her family were forced to flee their home in Slunj, Croatia as attacks by the Yugoslav National Army intensified in their region. Just two years old, she escaped with her parents and brother with only a couple of hours' notice, leaving behind the rest of their family for what they thought would be one year at most.

“We got one of the last buses out before the area was in lockdown,” says Monika. “Initially, we escaped to Belgrade, where we spent two weeks with relatives until we gathered funds for a flight to Australia.”

Life was not easy for Monika’s family when they arrived in Australia. With no other options, they were forced to live in a relative’s garage in the middle of winter. Her father would catch the bus to different towns, searching for work and affordable accommodation for the family. Eventually, he got a job at the steelworks in Wollongong and found an apartment for them to call home.

Monika remembers the challenges of going to school in a foreign country.

“I have vivid memories of struggling in pre-school, not understanding a word of English and experiencing significant racism,” she says. “I struggled to communicate with other children and establish friendships. I remember feeling like an alien when no one could understand me and teachers getting frustrated with me when a lot got lost in translation. The greatest challenge was desperately wanting to fit in and knowing where I belonged, not realising this moment was many, many years away.”

Building a life in Australia

After finishing school, Monika trained as a teacher - a job she enjoyed before taking time out to raise a family. Now, she is a mother of three children and passionate about helping vulnerable people, particularly refugees and those affected by domestic violence.

LWF supporter Monika Kollaras tells us her story and explains why she is passionate about helping others forced to flee.
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LWF supporter and former refugee Monika and her family.

“I have found a great passion in helping and working in the field of refugees and domestic violence in particular,” she says. “I have volunteered my time in various organisations and discovered what I’d love to do for the rest of my life. I’d like to utilise my trauma for the greater good and help shape the lives of those who may be walking a similar path to me.”

Monika says that its vital for Australians to unite in support of refugees.

“It has become apparent that the raw definition of ‘refugee’ is forgotten around the world,” says Monika. “Civilians seeking refuge, leaving all they know, their safety and their comfort torn away in a mere moment. With no end in sight to these horrific wars, it is paramount we stand united and speak for those who cannot use their voices. I firmly believe that change can only be brought about through action and using the voices we all have, to speak up about injustice.”

Joining the Leading Women Fund

When Monika learned about Australia for UNHCR’s Leading Women Fund (LWF), she was eager to get involved. LWF is a network of Australian women empowering Syrian refugee women living in Jordan through cash assistance.

With the support of LWF members like Monika, refugee women can provide for their families and pay for everyday needs like rent, groceries and medicine. Monika now encourages others to join LWF.

“LWF supports women in need whilst also allowing its members to feel empowered and capable of making change. If you are feeling depleted by watching the events around the world, wondering how you can help – LWF is a step in the perfect direction. Women supporting women – it's just what our world needs much, much more of.”

Find out more about the Leading Women Fund here.