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Community comes together to renovate an old convent to help Ukrainian refugees find 'happy home'

'There's been assistance not only with accommodation but helping them to set up a life here.'

Community comes together to renovate an old convent to help Ukrainian refugees find 'happy home'
Cover Image Source: (L) Facebook/Rossal Wharton ; (R) Facebook/Millthorpe Public School

The Molong community of New South Wales, Australia, has opened its hearts to Ukrainian refugees, trying to build better lives in their town for families escaping war. With the support of the neighborhood Catholic parish, hundreds of volunteers worked to rebuild an old convent at Molong, situated in the central west of New South Wales. Their efforts have paid off, with two families moving in just last weekend, per ABC Australia.

"I hope that this project inspires other communities, not just in the city but in the bush as well, to find that practical thing that they can do to help people in need," Father Greg Bellamy said.



Hundreds of people attended a mass over the weekend to honor their labor of love in renovating this project. The Sisters of St. Joseph gave each new inhabitant the building's keys during an official ceremony that also featured a Wiradjuri "Welcome to Country" and a representative from the Ukrainian Embassy. 

The house was renovated with the help of more than 100 volunteers and several neighborhood businesses. A school, community group, or organization renovated each room separately. One of these schools, St. Joseph's Catholic Primary School, had many children participate in tasks of renovating the house, which the principal, Matthew French says they enjoyed. According to Mr. French, the students at his school are excited to have two little Ukrainian boys join them in kindergarten the next year. "People want to see these people here; they want to see them safe. They want to see them living in a happy home," he said.



The whole town contributed in their own ways. Builders Rod England, Richard Hoskin, Andrew Cresswell, and Ian Monks refused any wages for the amount of work they put in, plastering cracks, laying carpet, polishing floorboards - and even installing a new kitchen. Teachers of neighboring schools also played a big part in the renovation.

When the conflict started earlier this year, Philippa Waters, a music teacher at James Sheahan Catholic High School in Orange, was motivated to assist Ukrainians in finding housing and employment here. She has organized backing for the initiative, which has received enthusiastic support from many people in the area. Another retired teacher, Glenda White, stitched blue and yellow flags that adorn the streets of Molong now.

The Grand Western Lodge in Millthorpe hosted three families residing rent-free in hotel rooms, and school principals Peter and Melanie Meers have been among many to house Ukrainians in their own homes. The convent is furnished with a variety of original pieces donated by local artists Larissa and Loretta Blake and also houses a piano that Australian composer Phillip Wilcher gave to the Ukrainians.



Alex Volodin's family is one of the 2 families that moved in. He was the first to settle in the Central West after traveling to Australia in May. He swiftly secured a job with a mining engineering company. The transition program at St. Joseph's Catholic Primary School, which is just next door to his new home, will begin for his oldest son on Friday and his wife Vika is launching a local business as a seamstress. "Here a lot of people support me, and my family and I say thank you," he said, adding that he's grateful for being allowed to call Australia home. "I am happy here, and my family are very very happy."

The convent's other residents will be Anna Kovalenko and her family. Dima, Anna's spouse, is awaiting a visa that will enable him to practice his profession as a chef. "The people here in the bush have opened their hearts to them," Fr Bellamy said. "There's been assistance not only with accommodation but helping them to set up a life here. We're very excited. It's not just about us helping them; they are enriching us as well."

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