Vicky Lebedeva was 17,000 kilometres from home and nearly seven months pregnant when the COVID-19 crisis hit.
The risks of long-distance travel, especially for pregnant women, meant a trip back to the UK was out of the question.
So, she and her partner had no choice but to welcome their little girl into the world in Byron Bay.
But life has been far from easy.
‘We’re extremely grateful to be here, but it’s been a bit of a situation financially,’ Ms Lebedeva said, while nursing her newborn at Byron Hospital last week.
‘As travellers, we don’t get any government assistance, our savings are all being spent on having a decent place to live, and there’s basically no hospitality work.’
Eventually, Ms Lebedeva went to the Byron Community Centre (BCC) for help, where she was greeted with warm smiles and a box full of fresh food, household staples and personal items.
And she was far from alone. Hundreds of international students and travellers on working holiday visas have been stranded in the Byron Shire with little or no financial means to support themselves, and no way of getting home.
Centre management says a large proportion of the 100 people who lined up for food boxes last week were international students and travellers on working holiday visas.
‘A lot of them have been here a long time,’ the BCC’s general manager, Louise O’Connell, said.
‘There are families, individuals, people who’ve always had a steady income, and who’ve made an important contribution to our community.
Record meals served
‘But now they’re dipping into their savings, and those funds are drying up.’
With the economic impacts of the crisis likely to extend significantly beyond the health effects, the centre is expecting demand for its services to increase further over the next few months.
‘We provided 1,000 meals to people last week – that’s a record,’ Ms O’Connell said.
Appealing for help
‘We think this will drag out for months, and that’s why we keep appealing for help.
‘We’ve been fortunate to have some major donors, but we need more funds to help us put together those food boxes.’
One grateful recipient of a food box was Colombian national, Seb, who was made redundant by the COVID-19 crisis and then as a result lost his accommodation at a Byron backpackers.
The young man said he was currently sleeping rough and had really felt the drop in temperature sleeping on the beach.
‘We’re seeing people like Seb all the time,’ Ms O’Connell said.
‘This is a whole new experience for us. And for them.’
To help, visit www.byroncentre.com.au.
Cap: New mum, Vicky Lebedeva, with new dad Robin, and baby Ayana. Photo Jeff Dawson