On Sun 22 Dec 2013 at Hemmings Park, Dandenong volunteers and supporters engaged with the local community to bring Hope to Refugees and Asylum Seekers.
Members of the Melbourne Church of Christ journeyed from their usual location for church on a Sunday morning at Glen Eira College. Food and gifts were donated by church members with a financial contribution from HOPE worldwide. The Dandenong local government area has the greatest number of people nationwide arriving into the area from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Sri Lanka - often poor, isolated and even traumatised from past events related to war and conflict. Hope welcomes them to a new start in Australia!
A Christmas Carol service was led by Ford Lee and many refugees listened to the singing, despite not fully understanding the words.
Peter Appla shared a lesson about Gods love and compassion, and talked vulnerably about the love he felt from his late father and related this to the love God has for us as demonstrated by Jesus’ life.
After the service, church members and volunteers from the Rotary club cooked up a barbeque lunch. There was a steady flow of refugees lining up for food- around 30 families in total. It was good to see people from different races smiling, eating and talking to each other! The food disappeared pretty quickly!
A number of the Aussie teens and campus students along with a local soccer coach (Andrew Whelan) organized a soccer game. Teams were a mix of Aussies, Sri Lankans and Afghans.
Children from refugee families also lined up to receive presents from the children of Australian families. To begin with people were a little coy. Later Mothers started to spread the word amongst their friends and relatives who soon arrived with their children! There was enough presents to spare and many returned for a second gift.
Ali and Zahra (names changed) with their 3-year-old daughter fled persecution in Iran 9 months ago. Reza has a large scar on his arm, the result of a group of armed men coming to his home and attacking him. As with many asylum seekers, in their desperation to escape to safety they jumped on a boat in Indonesia and arrived on Christmas Island for detention and processing. They now may be waiting years before receiving a decision on whether they are genuine refugees. Ali is depressed and not allowed to work, with no work rights and is dependent on the support that he can receive from settlement organisations like the Red Cross or Adult Migrant English School (AMES).
Overall it was an encouraging community event which brought together people from different religions and cultures. Here are a few comments from those who attended:
Zahra (Asylum Seeker) – “People were really friendly. I am very grateful for the lunch, the community and the presents for my daughter!”
Sofia (3 year old Asylum seeker) – “I really loved the presents. I wanted more!”
Carol from Mordialloc Rotary club was one of those serving food: “I enjoyed the opportunity to meet people with such diverse backgrounds and such gorgeous smiles and gratitude.”
Geomer Manalasta (Teen) - “ Yeah, the giving was good. I saw most kids get two presents which was great to see, especially at Christmas”
Phil Tutt (Church member) – “ I was inspired from hearing the stories of despair turning into hope for a new life. I enjoyed the soccer game. It was great that two groups of people with completely different backgrounds, language and culture could compete and share a few laughs.”