From darkness to light

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19 November 2018

Artwork from students of Our Lady of Sion College, Box Hill.By Sophie Chan and Lydia Ting, Year 12 students at Our Lady of Sion College, Box Hill

The issue of refugees is depicted by the media on a daily basis. But reading the words on a page is very different to seeing the reality. This was not Manus or Nauru. This was Broadmeadows, a 45-minute drive from our school. In our local community, people are being kept in detention for seeking asylum in Australia.

Every fortnight a group of Year 12 students from Our Lady of Sion College visit the people inside the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (MITA) centre to offer them fellowship. We had no idea this simple act of light-hearted conversation would prove to have such a significant impact on our lives and theirs.

Our visits to MITA have opened our eyes to both the despair and the determination of the human spirit:

We witness devastation – in the tears of parents, at the celebration of their daughter’s first birthday: a beautiful child who deserves to celebrate with a real cake in a real home.

We witness defeat – in the slumped shoulders and fallen faces of those who speak of their broken homes and their stolen dreams, who speak of their freedom as a far-off fantasy.

We witness injustice – when we learn that the majority of people we visit have been detained for five or more years. That is the same length of time in which we have completed our entire high school education.

We witness heartbreak – when at the end of the visit, we walk out of two separate doors into opposite realities. They walk back into indefinite detention and we walk forward into a world of possibility and purpose.

But we also witness hope – in the gentle nature of a self-taught artist, who paints beautifully vivid paintings of hardship as well as hope.

We witness joy – in the laughter while teaching our friends how to dance the Nutbush and Macarena.

We witness faith – when we hear about a man’s deep trust in God and the strength his belief provides him.

We witness strength – in these individuals who have endured unimaginable hardship and yet are still capable of beaming smiles and pure laughter.

How can you reaffirm someone’s humanity, when they are confined in a small space and unable to move freely? This experience has allowed us to humanise this big political issue – to put a name, a face and a story to the refugee crisis.

At times, it is easy to feel powerless against the wall of governmental bureaucracy that dictates these people’s lives. Yet, we do hold power, as depicted in the painting by a detainee, Naser, titled ‘From Darkness to Light’ that we commissioned for our school. He explained that it is through our visits and prayers that we are able to foster hope for his future. He reminded us that, ‘through prayer, we can change the world’.

In a particular conversation, we were discussing our aspirations for the future but when we asked about his aspirations, he simply said, ‘I am different to you. I cannot dream like you. Even if I get out, I have no family, no job, nothing.’ This was heartbreaking and it is for this reason we are inspired to provide fellowship and solidarity for these people. It is our hope that, one day, they will be able to dream once more and receive the rights we are privileged to be born with.

This article was originally published in Catholic Education Today Term 4, 2018.