Celebrating the contributions of refugees

Pakenham Living and Learning Centre chief executive officer Miriam Cadwallader welcoming people to the Refugee Week celebration.

By Jamie Salter

This Refugee Week the community is sharing stories of migrants with refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds.

Refugee Week runs from Sunday 19 June to Saturday 25 June to celebrate the contributions of refugees in our society.

This year’s theme was Healing, and the Pakenham Living and Learning Centre held a celebration encouraging refugees to share hardships through storytelling.

There are 26.6 million refugees globally.

According to the Australian Red Cross, during the 2019-2020 financial year, Australia reported 23,266 claims for asylum within Australia, and 70,621 from outside Australia.

Pakenham Living and Learning Centre chief executive officer Miriam Cadwallader migrated to Australia from New Zealand.

“I chose to leave my homeland as a migrant to Australia – I had a choice. Refugees and asylum seekers don’t have a choice and the majority of them actually want to stay in their own home countries,” she said.

“Many of those who seek help through living and learning come to our English classes for our food relief and a number of other programs that we do have.”

Around 50 people attended the event to hear guest speaker Sumaya Harare’s refugee story.

When the Civil War started in Somalia, Sumaya’s mum (a Kenyan citizen) fleed the country on a fishing boat while she was pregnant, along with her two kids – aged one and two.

Eventually, she took four children home back to Kenya but struggled to live there while her husband was working in Dubai.

The family decided it was best to migrate to Australia and that’s when Sumaya had trouble adjusting to Australian society.

She said not knowing any English was an isolating experience.

“I only had one 45-minute ESL (English as a Second Language) class a week and I had to join the other kids,” she said.

“At eight years old, I retreated into myself and I just used to draw for hours – I loved art.”

When Sumaya went to high school, it took her a year and a half to make her first friend.

“I was too scared to show my true self and I was rejecting myself just to feel included,” she said.

Sumaya realised she was struggling with severe social anxiety and began to seek assistance from a counsellor.

“I had to go to therapy to discuss my trauma of leaving home,” she said.

“We’re now healing as a family.”