Rosemary Kariuki

Advocate for migrant and refugee women


Rosemary Kariuki is the multicultural community liaison officer for the Parramatta Police. She specialises in helping migrants who are facing domestic violence, language barriers and financial distress.

Fleeing Kenya alone in 1999 to escape family abuse and tribal clashes, her early years in Australia were terribly lonely. Her experience helped Rosemary recognise that isolation is a huge issue for many migrant women. Many aren’t used to going out alone, have no transport and speak little or no English. So Rosemary devised ways to help women leave their house and meet women in similar circumstances.

In partnership with the African Women’s Group, she helped start the African Women’s Dinner Dance. Now in its 14th year, more than 400 women attend the annual event. She also started the African Village Market – a program to help migrants and refugees start their own businesses – which ran for four years.

Rosemary’s warmth, courage and kindness inspire all who meet her.

Rosemary's Acceptance Speech

We live in a Multicultural Country with more than 270 ancestries and many indigenous cultures.
However, we often live in silos. We keep to our own people, what is familiar and miss that beautiful sharing of culture.
Like many migrants and refugees when I came to Australia, I was very lonely – I was in a foreign land and could not understand the Australian accent. I didn’t understand the culture and it was so far away from what I knew. It took me a while to feel like this country is home.
I lived in an apartment with 15 families who never looked at me or talked to me. One day I sent each one of them a Christmas card with my name and door number, and from then, everyone stopped to say hi, ask about my culture, and invite me for meals. Everyone even started talking to each other.

“I would love to see more Australians – those born here, refugees, migrants - anyone who calls Australia home open their doors to their neighbours. Get to know them, knock on their door, organise a street barbecue, go for a walk or a picnic.”

When I say neighbours, I don’t just mean the people living next door. I mean the people around you, another mum at your kid’s school, someone you see at the gym, a “stranger” in your office.
Many families who open their homes during our Cultural Exchange Program say it’s a life changing event. They’ll tell you, when we open our doors to our neighbours, we open our hearts. And we give ourselves the chance to rejoice with others. To learn from them and grow with them.

“It takes courage to open our hearts to our neighbours, to reach out in friendship to those we don’t know.”

Sometimes we don’t realise the differences the smallest gesture can make – like smiling at a stranger or saying hello, or hello mate. Sometimes we don’t realise how much sharing information, even things like our local services, can help someone.
Be open and not scared of any perceived differences, because as humans we have more similarities than differences.
We have an amazing opportunity to learn about different cultures and traditions, not to mention the food, music and dance a bit. And together we can make this wonderful country that I call home even greater.
So let us share what we know and give each a helping hand. Let us embrace our multicultural nation, more building on it, and looking for the opportunities and positives.
I would like to encourage everyone of you to meet someone new from a different background this coming week and see what doors open to you – you will possibly be helping that person to experience their new homeland in a new way and to feel they belong.
Thank you.