Students in Years 9 to 11 from Aquinas Catholic College Menai connected with people from many different backgrounds during a visit to the Asylum Seekers Centre.
The visit on December 1 was the third made by a group from the school this year. Students served a meal of Halal green chicken curry, sweet potato soup and rice made by Aquinas’ hospitality students while there. They also donated toiletries and spent time talking and doing an arts and craft activity with clients of the Newtown centre which offers legal, medical, job-seeking and other support services to refugees.
Year 11 students Laura Muller and Amy Cannon were among the group of about 12 students who visited the centre on December 1 with their school Principal James Corcoran and Social Justice Co-ordinator Julie Monk.
“My first impression of the centre was that it was really homely and was in a good location,” Laura said. “There were people from many different backgrounds. It’s one thing to raise money, but it’s another to actually go in there and get hands-on experience and talk to people. I was really grateful to be able to have that experience.
“A man from Iran was talking about his experience back home and arriving in Australia and the disparity between the two countries. Definitely the level of freedom of belief and personal expression was different, and the way that the government treated the people.”
The volunteer visits were open to any student from Aquinas who wished to apply to go, organised through the school’s social justice committee.
The highlight was having the opportunity to sit down with the refugees and hear their stories.
Amy, 17, said some of the clients were from Afghanistan, Iran, Jordan, and Syria. She said the art and craft sessions were a way to create a relaxing atmosphere and an outlet for clients of the centre to forget their worries. For her, it was a way to be more involved in an area she had previously only read about online.
“The highlight was having the opportunity to sit down with the refugees and actually speak to them and hear their stories,” Amy said.
“One man explained how he had been waiting for 28 years to seek refuge in Australia. It was really nice to be around them even though some didn’t speak much English. It gives you a greater empathy and appreciation.”
Social Justice Co-ordinator Julie Monk said the visits helped to educate students and contradict some of the images of refugees put forward by the media. Parents, parish members and students from Holy Family Catholic Primary Menai came to ‘table talks’ with an asylum seeker guest speaker at the school in November to discuss the topic further.
“We had a lot of questions answered,” Mrs Monk said. “One of the things a woman from the Refugee Advisory Committee pointed out is that anyone who has come to Australia by boat since 2012 can’t actually even apply for a visa. It was very upsetting for our students to realise they were in limbo for that amount of time.
“The visits to the Asylum Seekers Centre are just to increase awareness and understanding, and also to make sure we see refugees as people. We’re meeting them, we’re sitting down and eating with them and so that means we can interact with them as fellow human beings.”