My name is Deena and I’m writing to you from the Refugee Council of Australia.
We’re now into month 10 of the Year of Welcome. Thank you for coming along on the journey with us this far, despite the challenges that this year has raised for all of us! We’ve loved hearing about the ways in which you have taken the monthly actions to send a message of welcome to people in your community who came to Australia seeking safety.
This month’s budget was a stark reminder of the dark times we still live in when it comes to refugee policy. Refugees and people seeking asylum are hurting. It’s now more important than ever for us to come together to welcome and support those amongst us who came here to rebuild their lives and homes.
At the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA), we strongly believe that the people best placed to lead the way to a humane refugee policy are those who have lived the refugee experience first-hand. This principle underpins all our work, and one of the programs we are most proud of is our Face to Face speakers bureau, which brings me to your October action.
I came to Australia as a refugee from Iraq, in 1990. I found that people really wanted to know more about my refugee journey, and that sharing it gave them a better understanding of why and how people have to flee their homes. I found the Face to Face program and signed up as a speaker, gaining paid work sharing this story with school students. Now, I work at the Refugee Council and run the program myself.
Through Face to Face, we provide training and paid employment to people who wish to share the story of their refugee experience. Since 2014, we have brought speakers with lived refugee experience into schools, allowing tens of thousands of students and teachers the privilege of hearing the refugee experience as a first-hand account. Hearing someone’s first-hand experience is a powerful tool for creating empathy for refugees and people seeking asylum, and for tackling the dominant narrative we might hear in the media. As such, I see this program as an excellent way to create a culture of welcome at a time when it is most needed.
The feedback from those who have the privilege of hearing such stories first-hand is overwhelmingly positive. One Year 10 Student recently told me, “I learned so much from this presentation. Before listening, I had very little understanding of what the majority of refugees actually experience. I was really moved by the way people fought for their rights and never gave up.”
When COVID–19 struck, the program was faced with a new challenge- how to deliver incursions when schools weren’t operating in place? Luckily, through the wonders of modern technology (AKA Zoom), we were able to quickly transition to an online model. This went down so well that we decided to expand to workplaces and community groups, and offer virtual presentations right across Australia.
As such, for your October action, I’d love for you to organise a virtual or face to face incursion, to offer those in your community, workplace or school the incredible opportunity of hearing someone’s story first-hand, and ask any questions they may have. You’ll also be supporting the paid employment of people who came to Australia as refugees. As a Year of Welcome participant, we’re offering you 20% off! Just include ‘Year of Welcome discount’ when you make your booking inquiry.
We know it’s more of a commitment this month, but we promise you, it will be one of the most moving stories you ever hear.