by Aldona Kmiec Professional Photography

Meire De Mello in Carmen Miranda outfit

Meire De Mello is an inspiration. A skilled migrant she has lived in Ballarat for over two years and now works helping refugees. She is also a President of H.O.L.A. Home of Latin Association in Ballarat and if that is not enough, she runs Zumba classes every Wednesday and Friday 6-7pm at the Ballarat Regional Multicultural Council [BRMC] hall in Golden Point.

Meire tells me her story. I can hear her voice through these words:

“When I first arrived in Australia with my small family (my husband and my 18 months old daughter) we landed at Warrnambool with one suitcase each. That time I just realised how badly informed we were about other cultures, I always imagined Australia as a very warm country, full of blond surfers!

The weather was quite wet that year (2010) which made even more difficult to socialise and get into our new community.

In February 2011 I decided to do something about what other people were suggesting to me: “Are you Brazilian? So you should be a Zumba instructor!” so I gave it a go. I really tried to run away from the Brazilian stereotype but sometime it speaks so loud that people don’t want to hear anything else.

People take time to know you, especially in rural areas and we need to respect that and be resilient. I started to teach Zumba in Gyms and schools, since then I have been teaching not just dancing but also had the opportunity the showcase my culture. In April 2012, we moved to Ballarat and to fight against social isolation I decided to be involved with Multicultural affairs. It was great to know that City of Ballarat has a Cultural Diversity Department, it shows that this is a city that sees the Cultural and Diversity Population issues as important.

In three months of living in Ballarat we had created and incorporated the first Latin American Association in Ballarat (HOLA), in 6 months we had been successful in a grant application through the City of Ballarat and in October of the same year we had our launch night with more than 150 people turning up.

The Ballarat Regional Multicultural Council (BRMC) had a vital role in this achievement as they were my very first point of contact. Nowadays I am very glad of being part of BRMC executive committee volunteering as Youth Affairs officer and give back to the community.

At the end of 2012 some members of HOLA and I started to take part in the CALD Careers Program conceived by Igor Zovko, one of the Multicultural Ambassadors of CoB  and in April this year I’ve started my first “real” job in Australia.  As a result of this opportunity I currently work for an organization that supports young boys to stand on their own feet and become part of local community.  I am working as a Cultural Support for teenagers that left Afghanistan on a boat looking for a future.

My most recent project is the “Carnival Colours”, a very vibrant and colourful workshop tailored for the school environment that aims to share the Latin culture to children in Ballarat.  In partnership with BRMC we received funds to run Latin American workshops to the schools. This project is very special for me as I dreamed about it when I first arrived in Ballarat and now is close to be a reality.

It is a great feeling to be able to have dreams and fulfil them, even better if someone believes in you and give you the first opportunity. Thanks to all “believers”! ”

Meire De Mello

 

Both photographs are part of ‘Australia, a new chapter’ Ballarat Foto Biennale Fringe exhibition at The Forge Pizzeria 14 Armstrong St Nth and are on show until September 15th 2013. For more details please click on https://www.aldonakmiec.com/ballarat-foto-biennale-2013/

Meire De Mello in a traditional Guarani dress

You can contact Meire on:

H.O.L.A. BALLARAT https://www.facebook.com/latincommunityBallarat
SPANISH CLASSES https://www.facebook.com/pages/Spanish-Classes-Ballarat/252029594863809

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* If you liked reading above interview, please send me your feedback. I’m passionate about showcasing artists from migrant backgrounds living in Central Highlands, If you happen to know anyone that would like to be featured on Arts Atlas, please point them my way.

This interview was produced for the Central Highlands Arts Atlas [artsatlas.com.au], with thanks to Vic Health, Central Highlands LEAP project, Ballarat Arts Alive & the City of Ballarat.
Editing, interview & photography: Aldona Kmiec Professional Photography www.aldonakmiec.com