Josephite Community Aid - 11th October 2004

We each have one life

In Australia we live a privileged life free from the realities of war and may feel there is little we can do to help those suffering so far away. However, there are families from war-torn Sudan who have escaped the horror of war and now live in Australia.

Josephite Community Aid (JCA) helps to make many of these Sudanese families feel welcome and adjust to their new home. JCA’s motto is “Young People Making a Difference” and indeed young volunteers are doing just that.

Margaret, 22, is working as a volunteer with Josephite Community Aid and is assisting newly arrived refugees. Her story began in Vietnam 22 years ago…

Margaret’s mother, Kim, was pregnant with Margaret when she and her husband left Vietnam on a refugee boat in 1982. The communists had taken over South Vietnam and the family was fearful of their lives. So they boarded a suspect vessel and set out for Malaysia where they lived in a refugee camp. Eventually they were able to migrate to Australia where they started again in a hostel in Maroubra. Margaret was born soon after, followed by her brother.

Kim battled to fit into Australian life, especially after she and her husband separated. As a single mother, she needed to find work to support her family so she decided to complete a Floristry course at TAFE. She would leave her two children with friends and go to TAFE two nights a week. She did this for five years. When she began to arrange flowers herself, she would take the two children at 4 am to the markets (asleep in the back of the car) and then leave them with a baby sitter while she went to work. Kim’s determination to create a life for herself and her children in Australia took courage and persistence. Traits she passed onto her children.

Last year Margaret completed her third year of a chiropractic course. She saw an ad for JCA in the local parish bulletin and decided that she wanted to give back and help other people in her family’s situation. After two short visits to the JCA house at Ashfield, Margaret made the decision to commit to 12 months as a volunteer to help newly arrived families to Australia.

Through her work with JCA, Magaret helps women learn English. “I have Women’s groups on Tuesday mornings at our community house at Toongabbie. This group is for women who can’t go to English school because they have young children. We help them learn English and also talk about other issues. Recently, we talked about re-cycling. We often visit the families in their own homes and give them clothes and other things that our supporters donate.”
The JCA team also organises social outings for children to the beach and mountains and runs camps for recently arrived families at Kincumber. They have around 15 to 20 young volunteers to help run these outings and camps.

They also organise a one-day School Holiday programme and take two busloads of children and their families to the Blue Mountains. Margaret says, “They love it. We bring halal sausages because some of them might be Muslim and we have a barbie for lunch. They always like the Three Sisters.”

“I learn so much about the people. They have so many stories like Anna (name changed) from Sierra Leone. She had to flee her home and believed her son was dead. After she came to Australia, a pastor in a refugee camp in Guinea found Anna and told her that her son was still alive but they needed to do a DNA test to prove he was her son. Mary MacKillop School in Wakley raised the money for the DNA test. JCA helped a lot too, and this year Anna’s son was re-united with her in Sydney. It was wonderful when we took them back to my school to say thank you.”

Margaret also helps run a Sudanese Youth Group to encourage young people to socialise and get in touch with other young people from Australia.

Twenty one year old Moses, from Sudan, is volunteering with JCA as an interpreter. He was kidnapped from his home at just 11 years of age and forced to become a child soldier. After three years, he escaped and spent three and a half months walking to Kenya where sought refuge in a refugee camp. He came to Australia in January this year and came into contact with JCA in June. He shares his story as a way to raise awareness of the plight of his people, particularly children who are forced to become child soldiers.

Margaret says, “He’s great because he comes with me and interprets. One day we thought we had managed to invite a family to the beach for a day in the school holidays. When we arrived to pick them up they were all still in pyjamas and wanted to give us food. We knew only a couple of Denka words but knew “Yallah” means “hurry”. Still no progress. Finally one of the children understood. I asked them to wear shorts and swimmers but the little kid dressed up in a suit. He wore that. It was hilarious because they hadn’t seen the sea before. They couldn’t believe the waves kept coming and going. They didn’t care about appearances – they just went in to swim in their underwear.”

In June this year JCA took 450 Sudanese people to the Mary MacKillop chapel at North Sydney for Mass. “They love their own patron saint, Saint Bakhita so we thought it would be good to introduce them to our own Australian “saint,” says Margaret. “We had a fantastic day, but we don’t know how the Railway system managed with all those people. They had to run buses instead of trains the following weekend so we hope it wasn’t our fault!”

“JCA is full of surprises. You have to be open-minded because you never know what to expect. Because the refugees’ lives are dislocated, it is not always possible to foresee the future. So sometimes our plans change at the last minute. It’s good because I can use my initiative and I love to help organise things. Volunteers can use whatever gifts they bring to JCA which I love because I can use my passion for cooking.”

“We hear lots of terrible stories from the people. They suffered so much from the war but the great thing is that they are so happy to be in Australia. All of them really want to make a difference in their new home.”

Anyone is welcome to join JCA. You don’t have to have any experience in social work, and you will learn such a lot for future life. It’s also a chance to give something back to the community.

Margaret will finish her volunteer year in December this year. If anyone else would like to help, contact JCA on 9799 6990 or email
Visit the website You, too, can make a difference!

For more information contact Sr Helen Sullivan rsj on mobile 0425 257 803

Margaret with JCA volunteers Brad, Laura and Esala.

Margaret and Susan

Margaret and Akech (arrived 2 months in Australia from Egypt)