001 The Fatu Philes
Arriving alone in Australia from Sierra Leone at just 13 years old, Fatu has had her share of adversity and triumphs. Fatu’s life tells the story of a woman who is resilient and tenacious. She gives back to the community by using her experiences to advocate for and mentor others.
We visited her newly purchased light filled home in Western Sydney to taste some homemade cassava leaf stew, riffle through her eclectic African inspired wardrobe and to hear about her inspiring journey.
Tell us about your career/job? What has the journey been like?
At the age of 13 in 2004 I arrived in Australia as a refugee. Now I work in the Social Work sector as a Mentor for young people who have been in and out foster homes and who may be suffering from mental health issues. I assist these individuals with community housing, Centrelink, referrals to other services, enrolling them into TAFE or job search and intervention. It can be a really challenging field of work, but it is very rewarding. I have come cross the most resilient youth who refuse to let their past define them. Overall, I really enjoy doing this work as each day presents new challenges and opportunities to use my knowledge, training and personal experience in interventions and it allows me to initiate real positive change in people’s lives.
Describe your typical weekend...
I don’t have a lot of free time on the weekend because of my work schedule and the assignments I need to complete for my Bachelor of Social Work.
When I do have free time, I enjoy spending time with friends, trying new cafes around Sydney, hitting the gym, going on weekends away with girlfriends to relax and of course bingeing on Netflix.
You have amazing style, what has inspired you?
Africa! Bold, bright fearless patterns and colours like orange and yellow are my favourites. I love wearing my hair in braids as its unique and I love to stand out from the crowd. I am very inspired by Solange and adore labels like Camilla, Zimmermann, Camilla & Marc, C/MEO Collective and Posse. It’s very important to me to showcase my heritage through the way I style my hair. I love to wear hair scarves in bright colours and patterns. My fashion is vintage inspired; soft, feminine and comfortable. Fashion lets you be whoever you want to be, as a dark-skinned woman it makes me feel so happy to have the power to express my creativity through this medium.
How do you navigate culture and tradition while living in Australia?
Food! It’s such a great way to celebrate your culture, I cook traditional food at home every day which strongly connects me to my cultural heritage. Cooking and it feels amazing to make traditional dishes for others through a modern African pop up restaurant is definitely a future goal of mine. I also attend community events put on by the African community in Sydney such as celebrations for Sierra Leone Independence Day and support other Black Women and African-run projects and labels.
What do you think is important to fight for right now?
Justice of any kind. I focus a large portion of my time on working on issues such as rights for young people from refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds, the xenophobic and racist stereotypes and attitudes that are forced on African Australians and Women’s Rights. My particular advocacy work focuses on ending Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and having it treated as child abuse.
A big issue that I think needs to be tackled, concerns the global and societal contributions of black people – we have created so much, and this is rarely, if ever, acknowledged. On a personal level, I think it is important to fight for my own independence as this is constantly undermined as a young single black woman. I am told that I can’t or shouldn’t make a space for myself space in the world, but this is a huge part of my personal identity and undermines my self-worth. I’d love to not have to deal with that!
What tips would you offer to someone who wants to do something similar to what you do for work?
Be an effective communicator and remember that everyone has the right to their own choices,
Learn to be persistent,
Remember that you will always have the support you need to reach your professional goals,
Set your goals and stick to them, you can achieve anything if you persevere,
Kindness and a nonjudgmental approach is the key to developing positive relationships - you never know what beautiful situations can come from simply being open,
Being confident and bold goes a long way, but above all always be caring towards others while still caring for yourself.
What is your definition of self-care?
My definition of self-care is taking time to do things that make me feel happy. I do this by going out with friends, going on spontaneous trips, going to the gym, working with my personal trainer and taking care of my body. Online shopping is definitely part of my self-care routine especially as shopping centres make me anxious!
You've just moved into this beautiful space! What's the secret to purchasing a property with Sydney's astronomical house prices?
Honestly, there is no secret, it’s all about setting a goal and working extremely hard. I have worked 3 jobs while at university just to save up enough for a deposit. I must say, buying my first home has been very stressful as I have done it entirely alone, there’s no one to share the stress with.
There are a few different ways to get a home. Do you want to buy off the plan or buy a home that’s already built? Then there are bank applications for a mortgage to contend with. I was declined by three banks before finally being approved for a mortgage. One bank declined me for being over my credit card limit by 65c!
I bought my house off the plan and it’s taken nearly 10 months for everything to be finalised, the road to home ownership is not easy!
Tell us about your favourite items in your space.
My paintings from Hannah Carrick are absolutely my favourite items in my new home. I commissioned them from her three months ago and seeing them finally hanging on the walls is everything to me. I love them so much because they represent sisterhood, strength, resilience and unity; together we can do anything!