Dr Mark Timlin - 25 July 2013
The increasing number of people seeking refuge in Australia has become a highly politic as public response is polarised, from “send back those queue jumpers” to “we need to help them”. Whatever solution is found for the hundreds of people arriving on our shores, the fact remains that Refugees and Asylum seekers are one of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged groups in Australia. The HOPE Global Summit in Washington DC in May was entitled In His Steps and it was a reminder to me, that just as Jesus showed us how to extend our compassion to those in need, we need to walk in His Steps, which is not an easy thing to do!
When I asked Andrew Block, the Head of Refugee Health at Monash Health what should be the title of our event for Refugee week, he replied, ‘Lets not have anything negative which reminds us of barbed wire and detention centres, but something positive to show the contribution our migrant community bring to Australia. Something like ‘Enriching Australia’?. And so that is the name we went with! The event was held in June as part of Refugee Week and organised by Monash Health and Southern Migrant and Resource Centre. The evening consisted of a soccer tournament, martial arts demonstration and Australian and Afghan music. The main aim was to encourage a better relationship between the migrant and local community as well as service providers, namely health and settlement agencies. Another benefit of the event was the funds we raised for much needed Maternity kits in Afghanistan. They are being delivered to clinics on the outskirts of Kabul through HOPE worldwide Afghanistan and its partners.
Supporters and volunteers from the Melbourne Church of Christ lifted the atmosphere as they cheered on and later mingled and reached out to refugees over food.
The feedback received from ‘Enriching Australia’ has been very positive.
Craig Fillingham, a Refugee Health Nurse for Monash Health shared his thoughts about the event, which reflect the sentiments of many:
As a new member of the Refugee Health Team based at Doveton I attended the event at the Basket Ball stadium in Dandenong to celebrate Refugee Week and had no idea what the event would consist of. On arrival to the stadium I was met by a large sports hall at one end were 2 football pitches and the other end decorated with Afghan clothing, pictures, photographs, and a wonderfully decorated wishing well. At 5 o’clock the room was buzzing with football teams warming up for the football tournament.
During the evening speeches were made, notably from a refugee, now Australian citizen, Najaf Mazari who manages a rug shop in Prahran. He encouraged those asylum seekers and refugee’s in attendance to venture out of Dandenong and go to the city to understand Australian culture, and enjoy this opportunity they have. This was followed by a display by a local taekwondo club that was very impressive.
Live music was played on the traditional Afghan Tambora which led to spontaneous dancing breaking out, but the highlight for me was the women’s football tournament. The winners were a team made up a Afghan school girls, who showed not only determination and commitment but a good level of skill. They beat a team of Australian women made up mainly of my nursing colleagues, who it has to be said were considerably older and taller than the Afghan girls!
My overall feelings leaving the event was being impressed by the attendance, the enthusiasm the event was received and the welcoming atmosphere. For me it was a fantastic way of getting to meet the some of the community I will be working with away from a health setting.
Thanks! - Craig
The soccer tournament featured 10 teams made up of refugees and asylum seekers, community groups and service providers. The Men’s draw was won by a team made up of young men representing Youth Support and Advocacy Service (YSAS). This charity helps highly vulnerable young people struggling with substance dependence and mental illness. The women’s draw was won by a team called Shirin Girls victory, a group of Afghan girls coached by Kamila Rezaie. The team trains weekly in Dandemong and Kamilla dreams of one day playing soccer professionally and wants to go on to be a famous soccer player. Her team is named after Shirin, a famous Hazara woman who sacrificed her life over 100 years ago defending the rights and dignity of Afghan women who were being tortured and killed in Uruzgan province. This same province is where Australia has sent across soldiers with the goal of bringing peace and stability to the region.
HOPE worldwide had a team courtesy of the Melbourne Church of Christ, University ministry. They played courageously, and were unable to pull off a final victory, but were gracious in defeat.
Ali Rahimi, an interpreter for the Asylum Seeker and Refugee Clinic in Doveton organised a Martial Arts Demonstration with a group of 15 of his students. The crowd were surprised by the skills of adults and especially children, who punched and kicked their way through many pieces of wood. As Jacinta, a refugee health nurse commented “I loved watching the Taekwondo and to see the little kids perform along with adults was exciting!”
Ali, came to Australia on a boat in 2000. He is a family man and contributes a lot to his local community. Six years ago he started a Taekwondo club with a few students, he now has a group of 30 people and travels overseas to judge at international tournaments. He also saw the need for Afghan students to keep up their language skills. Again 6 years ago he set up the Payam Dari School, with 20 students. It now has 600 students!
In one corner of the stadium stood a Wishing well, courtesy of Ringwood Secondary College. Janette Bennie, a member of the Melbourne Church of Christ and a teacher at the school though it would be a good idea to have her students connect with Asylum seekers. A couple of weeks prior to ‘Enriching Australia’ one of the teams, (Refugee Social Soccer), comprising of newly arrived Asylum seekers visited for a soccer game against the students. The students also conducted an AFL footy clinic- a first taster of AFL for most of the attendees. During the lunch put on by the school (pizza) one of the Asylum seekers commented, “Being here and seeing the school, makes me wish that I could be a teenager again and study here!” In response to the visit, the school constructed a Wishing Well, the idea being that people would place a wish in the well and others would pull out a wish and try to fulfil it. A number of Asylum seekers wished for things that were beyond the people’s ability to achieve: “ I want permanent residency”. Other wishes were easier: “I need a regular sporting activity”.
Following on from the event, we understand a lot of work needs to be done to achieve equity in the Health and Welfare of Asylum seekers and Refugees. Social inclusion is a large element of this and we hope that events like this can stimulate new ideas and projects to further build bridges between our local and migrant communities to continue to enrich Australia.