School holidays. Two words that can fill parents of school aged children with panic and dread.
It's hard work trying to keep children happy and entertained during the holidays, but when you are a refugee - new to the country, with few friends and money is tight - the term break can be a time of increased stress and anxiety.
To give refugee families a little help during the holidays, the team from CatholicCare's Dandenong office organised a Family Day Out at Dandenong Park on Friday 7 April. The perfect weather drew close to 300 people, mostly from Afghanistan and South Sudan, for a free BBQ and ball games.
Florence from South Sudan knows only too well how challenging the school holidays can be. She has six children aged between two and 18 years, including a five-year old with autism. She is juggling being a single mum while studying to work as a counsellor, so there's not much money to spare for holiday activities. The library and the park are their regular options.
Palwasha from Afghanistan has five children keeping her busy at home. They range from six months to eight years old, including three-year-old twin girls. Palwasha describes dropping off the older children at school and kindergarten, with the twins and baby in tow. As we (unsuccessfully) attempted to gather the children for a group photo, it hit home just how hectic their family life could be!
At the start of the school holidays, Palwasha takes her eight year old to the library to borrow books. She also makes use of the holiday programs available in her local community. She is happy that her children can run around with others at the Family Day Out, though she admits to being a 'worried mum', and is forever scanning the park to keep a watchful eye on her brood.
Out on the field, boys from South Sudan are kicking a soccer ball with boys (and a few girls) from Afghanistan. Some of the other children have found a good tree for climbing, while on the grass, young girls are sitting in circles chatting away. Among them are Mouj who is 12 years old and her cousin Sarah, who is 11. They say that their culture is very strict; but because they are cousins they are allowed to hang out at each other's homes during holidays. Their days are spent on Instagram and SnapChat and making 'slime' out of shampoo and food colouring.
Meanwhile, the mums and dads are gathered on the brightly coloured rugs scattered across the park, happy for the chance to catch up with friends and relatives.
"A day like today is about encouraging refugee families to engage in activities outside the home," said David Hannan, from CatholicCare. "We're showing families that a day in the park is a fun and inexpensive way to let the kids burn off some energy, while the adults catch up with friends and family."
"It's all about reducing social isolation."
Family Day Out