ON THE SCENE | FESTIVAL OF HOPE FOR REFUGEE WEEK
by Rod Ceballos
Held at Brunswick Town Hall on Saturday 25 June, the ‘Festival of Hope’ marked a warm end to the activities of Refugee Week. The event, which was organised by Amnesty International, UnitingCare Lentara and Moreland City Council, highlighted the talents and contributions that refugees have made to local community and culture.
Showcasing singers, writers, actors, and the work of many other individuals, the festival provided a chance to meet former refugees and learn of their experiences in coming and settling in Australia. The event also aimed to create awareness of the global situation, presenting the facts regarding Syria’s refugee crisis, and running advocacy workshops throughout the day.
Mariam Issa, resident in Melbourne since 1998, shared her experience as a newly arrived refugee and her attempts to comprehend and fit into her new community. Her journey highlighted many of the trials facing refugees, especially women and girls, who usually deal with the strongest cultural shift.
Mariam Issa is now a writer and her book A Resilient Life explores many of these issues and proposes empowering individuals towards debating less and connecting more. This is also part of the notion behind her RAW Gardening project, which is regarded as a valuable contribution to her local community.
Like Mariam, many refugees participated in the ‘Festival of Hope’ with their voices, artworks, gestures and even their silence. Yet regardless of the method chosen, the benefit of these talents to Australian society became clear, as did their sense of gratitude and commitment.
The success of Festival of Hope as an event, and to a greater extent the message of Refugee Week, is impossible to measure without considering the community and its willingness to hear. With this event, Amnesty International and its fellow organisers want people to understand the refugee cause at a human level, focusing on the bilateral benefits of welcoming refugees, their long and often difficult process of integration, and the fact that this cause is now more relevant than ever.
Visitors to Festival of Hope signed petitions to support the refugee cause and, despite the immensity of the situation, each of those signatures matters. Every signature is a declaration of support, which will ideally become vocal and spread, from one person to one group to one nation.
The Festival of Hope marked the end of Refugee Week but the crisis persists, at both a national and international level. Everyone can sign up, donate, and advocate. Yet for many the first step is to become better aware of the situation and of the value of refugees as individuals. That’s something we can do at any time.
Rod is the Northsider’s photography editor, occasional photographer and random writer of bits and pieces. His number one fan is his ten year old daughter, who thinks being published in Internet equals being famous. She might one day learn better, but until then he’ll just have to keep posting stuff. To see more of this work click here.