17 July 2017
Refugee reality shared
Picture: Jocelyn Nickels
As published in The Border Watch.
Written by Jocelyn Nickels.

Students hear from migrants about struggles

World Refugee Day was celebrated yesterday at Tenison Woods College as two women shared their stories of freedom with students.

Handing over the first two ragdolls created as part of the I Made It sewing enterprise program at the Mount Gambier Migrant Resource Centre, Wah Ree Paw and Jolie Hirwa spoke to students about their journey to Mount Gambier and their Karenni and Congolese cultures.

Each rag doll made by women in the program comes with a story about the creator – giving the wider community an opportunity to learn more about refugees who have arrived in the Blue Lake city under a humanitarian program.

When Jolie was only 15 years of age, tribal conflict broke out in her village in Congo, forcing her to flee to the Dadaab Refugee Camp in Kenya, where she lived for five years.

“It was here that I learnt that my stepmother and father had been killed and no one knew if my mother was still alive,” Jolie told the students yesterday. “My sister, who also ended up in the same refugee camp as me, was given a visa to go to Canada, where she still lives.”

In 2015, Jolie was given the opportunity of a lifetime when she was granted a humanitarian visa by the Australian Government and brought to Mount Gambier.

Since her arrival, she has worked hard to create a good future for herself, studying English, completing a certificate III in aged care and volunteering as a broadcaster at a community radio station.

She currently works as a bilingual services officer at Mount Gambier North Primary School, where she helps with Congolese new arrival students and as an interpreter and community settlement officer at the Migrant Resource Centre.

“I am very happy to be part ofthe community in Mount Gambierwhere I learn new things every dayand have made many friends,”Jolie said.

Having never been to her cultural home country of Burma, Wah Ree Paw’s story started a little differently.

Born in a Thailand refugee camp, she lived a life ruled by strict policies.

“People sometimes went outside the camp to look for food like mushrooms and bamboo shoots and then the soldiers would kill them,” she said.

“Often the soldiers would place explosives on the bodies and land mines around them so that when their families pick them up to take them away for burial, there would be an explosion and they would be killed too.

“This happened to a neighbor and I was very upset for days, mum used to say ‘don’t think too much, it will make your mind sick’.”

Luckily in 2010, Wah Ree and her family made the move to Mount Gambier where they have since become an important part of the community.

Completing Year 12 and a certificate in child care, Wah Ree is currently helping the community by working as an interpreter and settlement officer at the Migrant Resource Centre.

One day she hopes to visit Burmato help orphans and impoverished people.

The rag dolls sharing Jolie and Wah Ree’s stories will be shared amongst the junior school classes as part of Refugee Week, which is celebrated from June 18 to 24.

As well as sharing in Wah Ree and Jolie’s stories, Year 12 students Victoria and Anastasia Circelli also organised and assisted some junior school classes to create a banner for the Refugee Week Exhibition upstairs at the Main Corner.

This was part of their practical project for their Year 12 religious education integrated subject.

The exhibition is on show until Saturday.

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