Refugee Leaders Raise Their Voices
22 November 2023
Refugee Leaders Raise Their Voices and Inspire Action within the Australian Community
At JRS Australia, we are privileged to work alongside a group of leaders with lived experience, who advocate for the rights of refugees, people seeking asylum, and people who have experienced forced displacement.
Leaders in our Refugee Leadership Program participate in leadership development activities, and are engaged by our partners in school, community and church groups to share their stories, raise awareness, and inspire us all to take action.
The leaders show incredible resilience and power by coming to these events, leading with an open heart and using their voices to speak up for themselves, their loved ones – and also for the tens of thousands of people they don’t know, who share the same dream of seeking a better life in Australia.
We recently held a Table Talk with the, where Maryam and Magdalene – leaders in our Refugee Leadership Program – shared their stories to a room of guests from the church and school community in Western Sydney.
Although their stories are personal, Maryam and Magdalene both described coming to Australia after facing incredible hardship and persecution in their home countries.
The leaders also experienced added trauma upon arriving into Australia, including hostility from the community, discrimination at work, a lack of support to meet basic food, housing and medical needs, and dangerously long processing times on asylum applications. All these factors work together to undermine a person’s ability to support themselves, to seek family reunification, and to feel secure and hopeful about their future.
As Maryam and Magdalene shared, this story is all too common for people who experience forced displacement and seek asylum in Australia. For many, if charitable organisations like JRS Australia did not exist, there would be nowhere else to go.
One guest asked the leaders how they find the strength to keep going through this seemingly insurmountable adversity, and both women touched on the power of being stronger with and for other people.
Maryam, who came to Australia with her young son, said: “When you feel weak, when you’re being traumatised, and when you can’t be strong, you have to be strong for your children.”
Magdalene finds strength in knowing she is one of many brave story-holders, who raise their voices when others’ are silenced: “When I hear other people tell their stories, it brings me an ability to speak up. People have worse stories than mine, but when I listen to them and hear what they’ve been through, it brings me strength. Advocacy brings me strength.”
And just as the leaders find strength and purpose through standing up for others, we are in turn moved by their stories, encouraged to be brave ourselves, and inspired take action within our own communities.
Guests at the Table Talk had great discussions about how they can help from within their church, school and community groups. Some ideas discussed included:
- Donating to JRS Australia’s Foodbank;
- Fundraising to support the 3000 clients JRS Australia serves annually;
- Inviting the JRS team to run a School Workshop; and
- Writing to your local MP.
You always have the power to make a difference
Speaking specifically to students from Catherine McAuley and Parramatta Marist High School, Magdalene made it clear that no matter your circumstances, you always have the power to make a difference:
”As students you might feel there’s nothing you can do. But you can. Tell our stories. Go home, go back to your schools, churches, communities – and tell our stories”.
Sharing stories is such a powerful way of learning about each other, coming together as a community to fight against injustice, and to show up and do something good for our fellow human beings.
To end her speech, Maryam shared the poem Bani Adam by Persian poet Saadi. This same poem is printed on a carpet displayed at the United Nations headquarters in New York:
Human beings are members of a whole,
in creation of one essence and soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain,
other members uneasy will remain.
If you have no sympathy for human pain,
the name of human you cannot retain.
If you would like one of our Refugee Leaders to speak at your school, church or community group event, please reach out to us: https://aus.jrs.net/en/schools-engagement/.