Why I love libraries

Can you believe an economist penned an opinion piece on the website of business magazine Forbes entitled Amazon should replace local libraries to save taxpayers money?  The writer put forward his idea that libraries “don’t have the same value they used to”.  It caused a public outcry around the world and the post has now been deleted.

It’s hard to know where to start with what is wrong with this idea. One of my favourite memories as a child is of going to the library on Saturday mornings, checking out a huge stack of books, coming home and spreading them across the floor, deciding which one to read first and then digging in to those pages that would take me to another world to meet amazing characters.library2

I love visiting my library now to see pre-schoolers with mum or dad at rhyme time, school children doing research at the desks or older members of the community browsing the shelves or the newspaper stacks.

I often pop in and sit in a comfy chair to read for a little while.  Now of course there are e-books and audio books to download for my phone so I can take my favourite author walking with me each day.library1

There are so many activities on offer that my head spins: book clubs, historical society meetings, computer classes, community legal services, language classes, printing services and a wide variety of talks and presentations.

When my mum was battling cancer, the wonderful librarians at her suburban library chose a selection of books for her each week.  The driver of the bus that drove around to pick up and drop off seniors called in with her books, enabling mum to keep in touch with her reading community.

I have come to understand that a library is not just a place of books; it is a place of people and community.  Thankfully there are enough of us like-minded people to remind economists and others who would wish to close our libraries.

The ever burning candle

The power of telling people’s stories never ceases to amaze and inspire me.

In association with the Centre for Stories, three established playwrights have been working with three local story tellers to bring a portion of their stories to the stage at The Blue Room Theatre. My good friend Fauzia Sufizada is one of those story tellers.

I’m thrilled that Fauzia’s story, which was adapted by Chris Isaacs, an award winning writer who has worked around the world, was primarily inspired by my book More to the Story: conversations with refugees. English is Fauzia’s fifth language and she was brilliant in a solo performance. She asks her audience to imagine her life as someone from a refugee background.

Fauzia Sufizada is lost on a bus to White Gum Valley.  She is in a room in Peshawar watching a Norwegian freighting ship on TV.  She is reading her father’s poetry in Kabul.  She is stepping off an airplane in Perth. She is in a chair in the theatre – and she’s talking to you.

The other two stories that were brought to the stage were equally as engaging.  Due to popular demand an extra show has been scheduled for Saturday 4 August. Click here to make a booking.

Fauzia's play

Fauzia Sufizada (third from left) with a few fans after the show

Take action

You may have heard recently about how the Australian government is making cuts to the Status Resolution Support Service (SRSS). This program provides asylum seekers in the community, who are awaiting the outcome of their protection visa application, with a basic income (89% of a Centrelink Newstart Allowance) and casework support. New tightened eligibility criteria will mean that around 500 people in Perth may no longer have access to this program.

CARAD logoCARAD is a fabulous organisation in Western Australia that has assisted thousands of refugees and asylum seekers with a range of services. Their latest newsletter reports they are witnessing many people facing destitution and homelessness as a result of no longer having a safety net of financial and casework support available to them.

They are calling on people to take action by finding out the facts and getting involved via the following methods.

ADVOCATE – Engaging with your local Member of Parliament is an effective way of demonstrating that you care about justice, non-discrimination and upholding human rights for all. Advice on how to go about writing to your MP is on the CARAD website.

DONATING FOOD – With more and more people relying on their food bank to provide food for their families CARAD is seeking donations. Their website outlines the food and non-food items that are most often needed.

VOLUNTEER – CARAD has many volunteer roles on offer including homework support, English tuition, assisting with the food bank program, and helping out at the CARAD office. They also have a new Food Truck project just getting off the ground and are looking for people who have skills in vehicle mechanics/maintenance, hospitality/food industry, small business management, marketing or event management. Their volunteer information sessions are held every month – here are the ones coming up:

  • Thursday 26 July, 12pm
  • Tuesday 14 August, 5.40pm
  • Wednesday 15 August, 12pm

More information on volunteering is on the CARAD website. If you would like to get involved in the Food Truck project please contact: foodtruck@carad.org.au.

MEMBERSHIP – By renewing your membership or becoming a CARAD member you will give weight to their vital advocacy work, stay up-to-date on news and events and can actively participate in the organisation. More information on membership and on how to make a donation is on their website.

If you are located elsewhere in Australia there are a range of other organisations you can support that assist asylum seekers and refugees.

take action

Every two seconds

The UN Refugee Agency’s annual Global Trends study released last week found 68.5 million people had been driven from their homes across the world at the end of 2017. This is an increase of 2.9 million on last year’s figure and is the biggest increase the UNHCR has seen in a single year. It now means that a person is forcibly displaced from their home every two seconds – more people than the population of the United Kingdom.

The number of asylum-seekers awaiting the outcome of their applications for refugee status is 3.1 million, by the end of December 2017. People displaced inside their own country accounted for 40 million of the total.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, reminded us that ‘No one becomes a refugee by choice; but the rest of us can have a choice about how we help.’

For those of us in communities around the world who want to help, that can mean practical acts such as lobbying governments, writing letters, volunteering, or donating to agencies that help people of a refugee background like: MercyCare, Save the Children, Red Cross Australia, CARAD and the Edmund Rice Centre WA.

But most importantly, I believe, it means staying informed and knowing the facts. This latest UNHCR report makes for sombre reading and it is a long document. However I urge you to read the “Trends at a Glance” at the beginning of the document and watch the short video on the website about people like you and me with individual hopes, hardships and stories.

As always, behind these confronting numbers are real lives.

Giles Duley image

Woman2Drive

This month Manal al-Sharif was planning to return to Saudi Arabia, the country of her birth, to drive freely down the main streets on her own, when a ban on women driving is lifted.

However, as the historic date of 24 June drew closer Manal received death threats while six other prominent human rights activists have been detained in Saudi Arabian prisons.

She decided it is safer for her to stay in Australia where she now lives.  “I think I can be a stronger human rights advocate outside of Saudi Arabia where my voice can be heard around the world. They would lock me up again if I returned,” she said in a recent interview.

Manal has been part of a movement in the Saudi Kingdom advocating for women’s rights and the right to drive a car without a male chaperone. Her memoir Daring to Drive also gives us rare personal insights into everyday life for women in the country.

The book describes her strict commitment to Islam in her younger years and how that slowly changed.  Manal graduated from university with a Bachelor of Science focussed on computer science.  She then secured a position as an information security consultant, one of the few women to do so, at Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s biggest oil company.  It was from this point in time that she sought fearless ways to break through taboos.  It was not easy, as the opening paragraph shows.Manal al Sharif

‘The secret police came for me at 2 in the morning. As soon as I heard the words Dhahran Police Station, I was terrified. My brother slammed the door shut and locked the bolt. There was a pause. Then the knocking started again.’

Manal spent a week in a cockroach infested prison for driving a car.  She did not commit a traffic offence, but the police told her she ‘broke orf’ – a tradition, custom or practice.

When I interviewed Manal at the recent Perth Writers Week, she still seemed a little surprised that her book has become a best seller around the world.  Manal has also been recognised with the Havel Prize for Creative Dissent Award at the Oslo Freedom Forum and Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential women in the world.

‘I have always wanted to tell my story.  I am a Muslim girl born in Mecca and now I am an activist.  I did not know my story would be of interest,’ she told me.

I can assure you it is… I highly recommend her memoir.

#WithRefugees

refugee week 2018 logo

Refugee Week is an annual activity to raise awareness about the issues affecting refugees. It provides an opportunity for us all to recognise and better understand the courage and contribution of refugees.

This year is the 20th anniversary of Refugee Week in Australia, which runs from Sunday 17 June to Saturday 23 June. Refugee Week coincides with World Refugee Day on 20 June.

There will be events and celebrations everywhere so I encourage you to think about joining in.

The Refugee Council of Australia has chosen #WithRefugees as the theme for Refugee Week 2018. In Australia, it is the responsibility of our Government, as well as each one of us, to ensure people forced to flee their homes from persecution can live with dignity and with hope. Two of the ways “people power” has made a difference this year:

  1. People have been lobbying their local councils to set up refugee welcome zones to begin to connect with everyone in the community through cultural and information events there’s been great success in the areas of Margaret River, Lithgow, Scarborough, Joondalup and Gippsland. If your local council is yet to sign up as a refugee welcome zone, don’t give up.
  2. Thousands of people have helped amplify the voices of the people trapped in offshore detention — including Behrouz, Joinal, Aziz, and Imran— by sharing and liking their stories. Behrouz Boochani won the print/online and multimedia category in Amnesty’s media awards for his journalism from Manus. Please link up to their FB pages and follow what’s really happening in offshore detention facilities and settlement programs.

As the Refugee Council of Australia reminds us:

A ‘Refugee’ is a person; boy, girl, woman or man. Not a label, but a human being with a beating heart, just like you and me.  And the refugee experience can be prolonged. Today there are more refugees than ever, and only by standing together #WithRefugees can we begin to change this.

Stories that shape us

Isn’t this a great theme for a writer’s festival?   I’m looking forward to participating in the Margaret River Readers and Writers festival that runs from 1-3 June in the picturesque south west of WA.

Each of us builds a narrative about ourselves and I’m lucky enough to interview three writers with many layers to their stories. Even though two are fiction writers, each has been influenced by their own stories.

Still glowing from her Stella Award short listing, I will interview my friend Shokoofeh Azar about her book The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree. It is a chance for us to visit the world of magical realism and understand real life events in Iran after the 1979 revolution. It is the moving story of a family told in the style of classical Persian literature.  Here is an excellent interview with Shokoofeh that gives you some more information.

My second interview is with Mohammed Massoud Morsi an Egyptian/Danish/Australian writer. If you visit his website you’ll see he is a photographer and so much more. I spent two hours with him over coffee this week and we could have talked for much longer. We will be discussing his latest book, Twenty Two Years to Life, which is a work of fiction, based on a true story. His raw and powerful words took me, as the reader, to the realities of daily life for an ordinary family living in Gaza.

My final interview is with Sisonke Msimang. We will trace her life through the lens of race, gender and democracy. Sisonke’s memoir is called ‘Always Another Country’. If you get a chance have a look at her TED talk. you will hear her question our emphasis on storytelling, as well as spotlight the decline of facts.

I round out my festival participation in an enticing session called Coffee and the Papers on Sunday morning. Fellow panellists Ian Parmeter, Nikki Gemmel and Chris Nixon and I will dissect recent news events. Should be interesting!

I’ll let you know about any new writers I discover at Margaret River.

Enlightenment of the greengage tree cover  twenty-two-years-to-life cover  always another country book cover