Over 100 refugees from various backgrounds who are supported
through programs at the CatholicCare Dandenong office turned up on a sunny
Friday morning ready for the Annual Christmas Picnic. Not even a broken down
bus would stop these ladies and a few children (along with four gentlemen) from
attending the annual day out to the beach.
An hour after setting off from Dandenong, the bus arrived at
Sorrento at the lovely park overlooking the back beach. If the excited chatter and
breaking of bread on the bus was anything to go by, then the day was going to
be a wonderful success.
Picnic blankets were laid out, and lunch in small groups was
shared around. There was Afghan bread and cakes, Indian spicy potato dishes, Somalian
delicacies and many more items of which I cannot remember the names. Refugee
programs in Dandenong include a weekly cooking class and many of the meals
shared were cooked during class that week.
Sitting back with a full stomach, I let the sounds of the many
languages wash over me, and realised how lucky I was to be a part of this
special day. To share a meal with these women and men, who had suffered so much
to get to get to this point, was such a blessing.
In speaking with one couple, they reflected on their journey
that brought them to CatholicCare and to this special day:
“We were born in India and moved to Kenya when we got married.
We never felt we belonged there. We shared meals with our neighbours and were
social with many communities. But when it came to celebration days, we were
always left out. In Kenya we weren’t Kenyan enough to be included. We found the
same in New Zealand, where we were neither accepted by the Indian or the Kenyan
community on these special days. In Australia and with CatholicCare, days like
today make us feel like we belong to a new and wider community. Where our
background is celebrated and brings us together.”
This sentiment was shared with many of the women attending.
One girl had brought her mother along and commented that the ferry trip from
Sorrento to Queenscliff was the first time they had been on a ship together.
“Mum and I have shared many adventures and it is wonderful
to share this special day with her and many others from our community.”
Speaking through her daughter as an interpreter, her mother wanted to thank
CatholicCare for bringing so many people from her country together in this way.
To share a meal and an experience with others was very special to her.
I heard many similar stories from participants as we shared
fruit under a tree at the end of the day. A group of newly arrived refugees
were all single mothers trying to make a better life for their children. Some
had no husbands and others had no idea if they would ever be together as a
family again. Through all of this the mood was upbeat as they counted their
blessings at being able to spend the day together under a blue sky.
CatholicCare has assisted over 1,200 refugees through our
Refugee and Asylum Seeker Programs this year, helping families to settle well as
they start new lives in Australia. A focus of this particular day being one of
building communities, young and old have come together to keep traditions alive
and forge new friends and communities.
As we boarded the bus back home, I saw not only a group of people brought together by CatholicCare, but now a group of friends.