An inspiring Refugee Week

I participated in numerous events to celebrate Refugee Week this year. Some of the highlights included:

  • A terrific talk at the Willagee Library with a very engaged audience;
  • A WA Greens event with Sarah Hanson–Young and many diverse speakers from refugee and non-refugee backgrounds; and
  • An informative and entertaining evening with the Edmund Rice Centre WA hosted by the patron Ken Michael, AC. It was great to see so many people sharing stories and learning about each other as part of the event.

Throughout the week I was reminded often of the power of the story. At the Greens event I interviewed South Sudanese, young leader Friday Ziko in front of an audience of 100 people at the State Library. Friday was born in South Sudan but civil war forced his family to flee to Uganda when he was just a baby.

It was two days walk to what we thought was a safe refugee camp. Mum pretty much carried my older brother on her back, her bag on her head and me in her arms for two days. We got to Uganda but when I was four years old, trouble started again. Rebels started coming in at night and burning people’s homes down.

Friday’s memories of that time are dominated by one feeling — fear; a feeling that has been shared by all of the people from refugee backgrounds that I have met and interviewed.

You don’t know if you are going to eat tomorrow, if you are going to live tomorrow. You don’t even go to school because you don’t know if they are going to come and attack the school. We always had to move and move and move.

Friday and his family came to Australia when he was ten years old and his stories helped us all understand the challenges that new arrivals face.

At the Edmund Rice Centre WA event – “My story, Your story, Our story” – it was wonderful to see how many people from a refugee background and non-refugee background learnt from each other in small groups by sharing their stories and thinking of ways to work together to make Australia a better place for everyone.   One of the key over-riding needs expressed by those from a refugee background was enhancing access to education and language.

It seems to me that story-telling and listening are important ways we can exchange ideas and help us understand so change can occur.

Friday Ziko from South Sudan
Rosemary chatting with Friday Ziko at the WA Greens event celebrating 2016 Refugee Week