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What I Learned From Texting A Syrian Refugee

Three Leading Women Fund donors share their moving experiences of the Connecting Worlds app

"I still read through our messages"

Catherine Dix leads a team of Digital Growth Consultants


“In the days before the start of the app experience, I felt all the nervousness of making a new friend. Would I connect emotionally with my match, and would I be able to be helpful to her? But at the same time I felt intrigued by the chance to have a direct conversation with a refugee woman. I feel I have so much privilege yet so little knowledge of what the situation for refugees is actually like, which was one of my reasons for donating to the Fund.

“My match was the same age as me, has two young children, one of whom has an incurable medical condition. Her husband had died months after her second child was born. She struggled with ‘the weight of being a dad and a mum,’ as she put it, but we didn’t talk too much about the detail of her situation. Instead, our conversation was very much about connecting through the small, daily beauty of life. So I’d send her a photo of something really simple, like a beautiful flower, or things that were quite Australian that she could share with the kids. Once, I found a jellyfish on my morning walk; another time I think I sent a photo of a lizard.

“We fell into a routine of messaging every morning; my day would start with me sending messages and finish with receiving them, and we just found different things to share. It was really nice, and so interesting. I’d been so worried about what to say and then you realise that even just saying hello and wishing nice things for each other is a connection, and there’s something refreshing in that.

“It felt really strange to disconnect, although I understand the need to have a finite duration for the app. Our final messages were like, ‘I can’t believe this is finishing.’ Now, I still go back and read through our messages, and I hadn’t expected that. It’s really special.

"It was a very humbling experience"

Thu Nguyen is a business strategist and philanthropist


“When I first started messaging my match, we were both a little slow to open up to each other. Partly, it was the time difference and getting used to the way the app worked, but also I wasn’t sure what to ask or say. But both of us persisted. By the end of the eight weeks, we were messaging a lot.

“She was a single mum of three school-aged children and her husband had passed away about nine or 10 years ago. She couldn’t take paid work because she had a medical condition. For me, texting her was a very humbling experience, as she was so positive. She was always asking me how I was and sending good wishes to myself and my daughter, Jasmine, and our family.

“We talked about our day-to-day – she really loved cooking (her favourite meal is pizza!) - but there was a deeper layer as well, where she told me about her husband and I shared with her how my dad passed away recently. He passed pretty suddenly, in June. It’s a very personal experience but also universal; everyone experiences loss. I appreciated her sharing and I found support in our conversation, too.

“The end of the app experience crept up on me. I have a 16-month-old daughter and you know when you’re looking after a child, you don’t remember what you did yesterday? I wish we could have continued to talk. I do still think about her positivity, and her wishing the best for me and my kid. I carry that with me.

"After a busy day at work, I had a friend to talk to"

Nevani Murgan is an obstetric resident medical officer at King Edwards Memorial Hospital, Perth


“At first, my match and I sent each other photos and talked a little about ourselves but later on, she shared some of the more traumatic parts of her life. I had the sense that she felt safe talking to me; she knew I was a doctor and she trusted me.

“She was a single mum to an eight-year-old girl who has autism. She had separated from her husband during her pregnancy, as he was abusive. As you know, it can take a lot of guts and courage for a woman to move away from violence, and I respected that. Her mum lives with her, and they all rely on UNHCR’s cash assistance to survive.

“Autism is poorly understood by her community, she said, and her daughter’s social anxiety had led to her being bullied. I wish she was here. I work in a tertiary hospital and we have a range of allied health care and support. I felt that it was a shame that I wasn’t able to provide that for her. I tried to be as supportive and encouraging as I could.

“Having said that, she was cheerful and happy in our messages. I love to cook and sew, so I used to send her pictures of what I’d cooked for the night or what I’d sewn – it was Diwali during our conversation, for example, so I showed her the attire I’d stitched. And she would send me pictures of what she’d cooked, and pictures of herself and her daughter. We messaged daily and I thoroughly enjoyed communicating with her – after a busy day at work I had a friend I could talk to, so it was great for me, as well.

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