Have a #CoffeeWithLayla

Following last years success, Road to Refuge will be running our Coffee Cup Project  again this year to celebrate Refugee Week from June 19.

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During this week, cafes across Melbourne  be swapping their usual coffee cups for ones stamped with an image of Layla, one of Road to Refuge’s journey characters, to encourage customers to consider the journeys of people seeking asylum and refugees who have shaped Australia. Layla’s story is one of struggle and courage. While Layla’s character is fictional, the journey of many others in her position is not.

Coffee drinkers are invited to share a #coffeewithlayla and place themselves in the position of a person seeking safety by taking an interactive journey on Road to Refuge’s website. By sharing images of their coffee cups with the hashtag #coffeewithlayla, Melburnians will be a part of a wider campaign to raise awareness and engagement about issues facing people seeking asylum and refugees.

Project co-ordinator James Hickey, who has worked with social enterprises and cafes across Melbourne through his work with Scarf and Kinfolk, says the Refugee Week Coffee Cup Project will encourage members of the public, whether already passionate about these issues, non-committed or just wanting to engage more in a constructive dialogue; providing a chance to kickstart this engagement.

“Although the concept of the project is quite simple, encouraging people to educate themselves further on the realities of seeking asylum, and providing them with the means to do so, is an extremely powerful tool. Creating opportunities for more informed, dynamic discussions is immeasurable.”

Road to Refuge is proud to be partnering with some of Melbourne’s best cafes across both sides of the river, including coffee powerhouse Seven Seeds at all four of their cafes, with many cafes choosing to participate in the project for a second year. Visit your local cafe listed below and grab a #coffeewithlayla during Refugee Week.

We’d also love to to say a big thank you to BioPak, who jumped on board to support the project the minute they heard about it, offering a generous discount to help us get this project off teh ground and reach out to more people in the community through cafe participation.

And a special shout out to Lulu Cafe and Gallery in North Melbourne for hosting our launch party, and their generous support for the project!

CBD

  • Brother Baba Budan, Little Bourke Street

  • Good 2 Go, Hosier Lane

  • Hortus, Docklands

  • Kinfolk Cafe, Bourke Street

  • Sun Moth Canteen & Bar, Niagara Lane

  • Traveller, Crossley Street

Inner North

  • Addict, Fitzroy

  • Arkwright & Co, Carlton North

  • Assembly Coffee, Carlton

  • Auction Rooms, North Melbourne

  • Burnside, Fitzroy

  • Cafe Bu, Carlton North
  • Counter, North Melbourne

  • Everyday, Collingwood

  • De Clieu, Fitzroy

  • Friends of the Earth, Collingwood

  • Green Park Dining, Carlton North

  • Long Street Coffee, Richmond

  • Lulu Cafe & Gallery, North Melbourne

  • Newtown Specialty Coffee, Fitzroy

  • North Cafeteria, North Carlton

  • Seven Seeds, North Melbourne

  • Sir Charles, Fitzroy

  • Slowpoke Espresso, Fitzroy

  • Stagger Lees, Fitzroy

  • Twenty and Six Espresso, North Melbourne

Northern Suburbs

  • East Elevation, Brunswick

  • Lux Foundry, Brunswick

  • Milkwood, Brunswick East

  • Mixed Business, Fitzroy North

  • Pachamama, Brunswick

  • Phat Milk, Travancore

  • So & So, Travancore

  • Uncle Drew, Clifton Hill

  • Wide Open Road, Brunswick

Southside

  • Brighton Schoolhouse, Brighton

  • Coffee on Kareela, Frankston

Regional

  • Friar’s Street Food Store, Shepparton

  • Black Sheep Cafe, Corryong

Have a #CoffeeWithLayla

A Roundtable on Chasing Asylum

Kamna, Sebastian, Brigid and Alice of the Road to Refuge Communications team went and saw Chasing Asylum, a documentary by Eva Orner, last night at Cinema Nova.

A review in the Herald Sun recently described Chasing Asylum like this:

In Chasing Asylum, we have one of the most important documentaries ever made in this country, addressing one of the most important issues to ever face this country.

The Communications team were all shaken, stirred, moved and awoken by the documentary and in the below roundtable share their thoughts on the documentary, and what they think should happen next.

Photograph: Joel van Houdt/Chasing Asylum

Alice:  Even watching the film with a group of other Road To Refuge volunteers, who were all pretty familiar with many of the issues facing refugees and people seeking asylum, watching Chasing Asylum felt like I was re-learning the facts all over again, with a renewed sense of urgency.

The wide breadth of people interviewed by Eva Orner gives insight into the huge scope and diversity of people affected by Australia’s policies – the thousands of people who are currently in or have been in detention, the people stranded in countries like Indonesia unable to work or seek medical attention, the families separated all over the world.

I was particularly distressed by the witnessed horrors listed off by people who had spent time working in detention centres, and even more disturbed by the corruption in the running of these government facilities, in enabling ongoing human rights abuse.

Sebastian: Shame is the only word that comes to mind after watching Eva Orner’s exposé into the inhumane treatment of people seeking asylum currently in offshore detention on Manus Island and Nauru.

Shame that our policies are geared towards deterrence at a horrific human toll to people in need. Shame that everyday broken people in detention are driven to self harm. Shame that successive governments have knowingly maintained and supported these conditions behind a galling facade of pseudo-humanitarianism. And shame that this footage had to be filmed in secret and that simply disclosing what happens within the detention centers is now punishable by up to 2 years in jail under the Border Protection Act 2015.

As someone engaged in this space, watching the film reminded me that everyday our government is torturing innocent people including children in our name and the lack of sharing of information, stories and the human cost of all of this is something that needs to be addressed.

Chasing Asylum is a must watch for anyone who cares, doesn’t care or doesn’t know about what your life is like if you are one of the unlucky ones whose lives is at the mercy of Australia’s refugee polices.

Photograph: Chasing Asylum

Kamna: Having met and spoken to people who have faced the torturous, cruel and inhumane experience of being a person seeking asylum in Australia, I’ve often thought what is needed to translate these complex and heartbreaking yet simple stories of suffering to people in the Australian public caring and effecting change.

Watching Chasing Asylum last night through anguish and tears, I came to the realisation that a film like this might be it.

The wide ranging impact of how Australia chooses to treat people who make life threatening journeys across seas  to seek safety but only to end up living in insecurity and danger is explored comprehensively in Eva Orner’s film – in detention at Nauru and Manus Island, in limbo in Indonesia, by families who remain in countries of danger and learn of their loved ones’ demise in detention under Australian care and through Australians who work at detention centres.

But the message, stories and experiences are simple – with Eva Orner doing little except some brilliant film making and editing to bring this home.

How Australian governments have chosen to treat vulnerable people seeking asylum has cost the lives, futures and hopes of adults and children, and the fact that we have this on our hands is shameful and must stop.

Brigid: We’re all pretty familiar with the bleak, heartbreaking reality of Australia’s people seeking asylum and refugee policy. Offshore detention centres that are operating like prisons are somewhat staffed by untrained and unprepared workers, bouncers, security guards and military personnel. I went into Chasing Asylum knowing a bit about Nauru and Manus Island processing centres. Also doing social media for Road to Refuge means I get daily news alerts and read a fair bit about Australia’s offshore detention policies.

But watching this film was a real reminder that you can read about an issue all day and night and still not comprehend  how bleak the reality is. I want to say that I walked away from the film feeling hopeful but really I was just left with a sense of urgency about how much and how quickly these policies need to change. I am definitely going to be doing more research in to this issue, getting friends and family to see the film and educating myself around how my vote will play in to these policies at the July 2nd election.

Chasing Asylum is screening at cinemas across Australia. Information about locations and times are found here. We encourage you all to see this film, with a friend, family member, colleague or relative stranger and share the message. 

A Roundtable on Chasing Asylum

Dana’s picks for the Human Rights Arts and Film Festival

I go to the Human Rights and Arts Film Festival every year. It’s a fantastic opportunity to learn more about human rights issues across the world and at home. It’s also a chance for me to reflect more deeply about human rights issues I think that I might already be across, like the way that refugees and people seeking asylum experience the world, in their struggle for safety.

This year HRAFF have really made an effort to highlight the experience of seeking asylum and what it means to be a refugee today in Australia and abroad.

So this year it’s your chance to get a new perspective about what it is to seek asylum or to deepen your understanding of it through the unique and moving lens of documentary film and the arts.

Make sure you get along to at least one of these:

Chasing Asylum

Chasing Asylum is a disruptive and subversive documentary that cracks open the detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru to shine the light in. With never before seen footage and heartbreaking and challenging interviews by whitsleblowers and refugees on those islands – this film will shock you. Highly recommended viewing for everyone – whether you work closely in this area or are a supporter of refugee rights from afar. Chasing Asylum is an important antidote to the government’s 1984 rhetoric and information black hole.

Chasing Asylum opened the festival to a sold-out crowd Thursday  night, but screens again on May 8. Not to be missed.

Dreaming of Denmark

Dreaming of Denmark, showing on Saturday, follows Wasiullah, who fled Afghanistan at just 15 years old. This film investigates what happens to the many refugee children who disappear from asylum centres year after year, providing brutally honest depictions of the transience, isolation and frightening uncertainty they face.

They Will Have to Kill Us First

After taking control of Northern Mali in 2012, Islamist extremists implemented a law banning all forms of music, effectively cutting off the lifeblood of Malian culture. Radio stations were demolished, instruments were destroyed and musicians faced torture, exile or death. Grab a spot to the Monday screening.

Rituals of Belonging

Rituals Of Belonging exhibition, running from May 10 to May 15, showcases an immersive visual, sound and performance experience from Australian contemporary artists and refugee perspectives.

Stories from Detention

On May 11, at Longplay, Behind the Wire (behindthewire.org.au) will play three stories of detention told to you by Mohammad, Donna and ‘Peter’ about their experiences of detention. This is a space where the voices of people who have been detained by the government are amplified and the white noise of Parliament and the media is turned off. There are two limited sessions, don’t miss out.

HRAFF Goes West

HRAFF Goes West is an afternoon of entertainment and discussion, showcasing the stories of our newest Australians and celebrating their cultural and creative contribution. The event kicks off with a rhythmic, cross-cultural performance by the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre’s Music Group, followed by a selection of short films from the Festival’s 2016 line-up and  a panel discussion. This is a free event but you have to RSVP!

A Walnut Tree

A Walnut Tree is a film set in a Pakistani refugee camp. The film allows us to witness life from through Baba’s eyes, and by proxy, the experiences of many other displaced people around the globe today. This film will show on Saturday May 14

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Road to Refuge volunteer Emma Costa shares her new favourite cookbook

Yesterday I was introduced to the truly special cookbook, A Taste From Home, whose recipes are shared by refugees living in Malaysia. It was written by Haris Coussidis in partnership with UNHCR Malaysia with the understanding that food is both a way in which people can come together and a way in which people can maintain a connection to their culture and identity.

The book’s recipes are organised by home countries of the 17 contributing refugees which are Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Palestine, Syria, Irag, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Myanmar.

What makes the cookbook most special is that before each recipe, readers learn the significance of the dish to its contributor which is sensitively and honestly intertwined with stories from their refugee experience.

For example, Helena Asefa, who discusses that learning to make doro wat (chicken stew) is a rite of passage dish in her home country Ethopia, and that she will soon share it with her family who she has not seen in four years when she is resettled with them in Australia.

Common to each story was the idea that food enabled them to feel close to home. These stories were also accompanied by poignant photographs by author and photographer Haris Coussidis , who says she aims to put human face to refugee issues in Malaysia.

I also found it so beautiful that Haris was able to produce the book by being welcomed into the kitchens of each of the refugees who feature in it. For me, their generosity and openness to others really contrasted with their descriptions of having felt unwelcome upon arriving in Malaysia, and what we can witness transpiring the world over.

It really highlighted the ways in which people come together over food to share experiences and listen.

Of course, on top of the beauty of the book itself, I haven’t even mentioned the incredible recipes including Ouzi (Syrian stuffed filo pockets with spiced mints and nut), Tennai sambol (Sri Lanan coconut sambal), and anjero (Somali flatbread), which themselves stand alone as an incredible reason to check out the book.

A Taste From Home is such an incredible way for people to hear the stories of refugees through relating to a shared passion for food. I am looking forward to eating, learning, and sharing with others from it

Fardous, one of the contributors the book, making M'sakhan djaaj
Fardous, one of the contributors the book, making M’sakhan djaaj
Haris A Taste From Home
A Taste From Home”
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Bree McKilligan on running Yoga classes for women with a refugee background

Bree McKilligan takes free weekly classes at Fitzroy studio The Dance of Life for Women with a Refugee background. Her project is aimed at using yoga as a tool to provide support and create an inclusive, safe space for people with refugee backgrounds to explore, inquire and play.

Annie Belcher of our Schools Team caught up with Bree recently to speak about her connection to yoga, and how she became involved in the people seeking asylum and refugee advocacy space.

What brought you to yoga?

My mother practiced yoga in the days when yoga practitioners in Australia were mainly middle class women and wore daggy leotards! So as a young teenager I would go along to classes with her. I feel like I have been always doing yoga!

What is yoga to you?

It is meditation in motion and offers an opportunity to experience a feeling of oneness with all things.

How did you get involved in the refugee and people seeking asylum space?

Working as a creative producer in the fields of community arts and community media, I have been engaged with people from refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds for a number of years. I also have friends and ex-partners who are from refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds.

What led you to start the class?

The class started early in 2013 after I had finished my first lot of yoga teaching training and Johannes Mochayedi , director of my favourite studio, the Dance of Life Centre of Yoga and Healing, talked to me about offering a class to women from refugee and migrant backgrounds. As a new teacher I was keen to teach a free class to both start my teaching by offering karma yoga and also to practice my teaching.

Yoga classes have become quite expensive so I was interested in there being free classes. In addition, yoga in the West has gained a reputation for being mainly for very able bodied, white people.  

I believe all people, regardless of able-bodiedness, ethnicity, class or financial status, should have the opportunity to experience and benefit from yoga should they be interested. 

Yoga teacher Becky Fleming was also approached by Johannes to teach and she and I alternate each class. When we can’t teach, long-term yoga teachers Felicity Steel and Elizabeth Bell kindly step in to teach. None of the yoga teachers are paid for the class and Johannes donates the studio time.

Who are the classes for?

All people who identify as women. For me this includes trans women as well as cis-gendered women. Our flyer rather awkwardly says ‘Free yoga class, All women welcome: encouraging women from migrant and refugee backgrounds’ as we want women to feel welcome and not ghetto-ized as being ‘migrant and refugee’.

It’s been a lovely mix of people to date – people whose country of birth has included Vietnam, Malaysia, India and China as well as Australia – and students have melded well together. We also have students at all levels of practice – as a teacher that can be challenging as some students progress with regular attendance and others come in so new to yoga that lying down in a group class with a straight spine and relaxing with eyes closed is a new challenge to them! We also have some students bring children during school holidays which is great as it means the mothers can keep coming during the holidays. We aim to be flexible and inclusive.

Phuong, one of Bree's longest attending students, in practice!
Phuong, one of Bree’s longest attending students, in practice!

Why specifically for women?

It is women only so that women who may not feel comfortable doing exercise with men feel free to attend.

What do you hope people get out of the class?

I think we all hope to share the great benefits of yoga – which include greater peace of mind, self-nurturing, greater physical well being, camaraderie and happiness as well as, for the seeker, spiritual awareness. Yoga can be many different things to many different people.

I hope that any women who are feeling socially isolated may experience a sense of having a warm community and caring teachers.

If people would like to go or get involved what is the best way for them to do so?

We would love more students! People can get in touch via our Om Yoga Facebook page at Om Yoga Women Facebook page or they can call Becky on 0411 960 772 and myself on 0413 895 527. The classes are 1-2pm at the Dance of Life Centre of Yoga and Healing, 250 George Street, Fitzroy (which can be found here Dance Of Life Yoga Studio or on our Facebook page Dance of Life Facebook page)

New students are welcome to call and ask a lot of questions first if they like!

Other places to find community yoga classes and projects which might interest you:

Bree McKilligan on running Yoga classes for women with a refugee background

Get to know Road to Refuge’s volunteers: Jules and Judy

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The Scene: The two Road to Refuge Volunteers met in Judy’s lunch break to ask each other a few questions over chai lattes and sandwiches at Heart Attack and Vine on Lygon Street.

Why do you volunteer for Road to Refuge?

Jules: A few different reasons – initially it was broader and a general disdain for current policies and conversations about people seeking refuge and asylum, and a feeling that things need to change. Once I started, I found the organisation itself is fun and volunteers are like-minded people with a lot of passion and drive who share the vision as well, which makes it a very inspiring and exciting environment.

Judy: Yeah, I think you summed it up really well there Jules. I felt so disheartened and helpless and then realised that I could in fact start to do something about it. I saw the events position advertised and jumped at the opportunity, as I also wanted more experience with event planning and it al seemed too perfect. Oh, and if we are being honest, initially I also wanted to join R2R to become better friends with Dana (Mission accomplished by the way).

Judy: …and we should have asked, what is your role at Road to Refuge?

Jules: I am the Schools Coordinator, which means I organise and coordinate school workshops and events as well as facilitating and training other facilitators in running those.

Judy: I’m the Events Team Co-ordinator. The Events Team plan, organise and pull-off education-based events.

Jules: So what kind of events do you put on?

Judy: We do events that try to hit particular groups, which may not engage in refugee and people seeking asylum issues. My favourite event so far was Women Who Seek Safety, a panel held at the Wheeler Centre which addressed intersectionality; it looked at the fact that feminists in Melbourne had largely ignored the issues specifically faced by females who seek asylum, and that these are important feminist issues.

Jules: Why was it your favourite?

Judy: For me, gender and women is something I’m passionate about. I majored in this area at university and it gets me really angry. The event itself went so well too, we sold out the Wheeler Centre and there was a real buzz. The speakers were all fantastic and inspiring.

Where do you do most of your R2R work?

Judy: In bed at about 11 at night! Or Emily (who as of this year is our new director) and I  are known for Saturday morning power-working sessions in my kitchen.

Jules: Media Creatures, an amazing group of people working in media production let Road to Refuge use their office space in Collingwood, so I’ve been going in weekly and using their wonderful big office.

Outside of R2R, how do you spend your time?

Judy: I just graduated a Master of Public Health and landed a job at the Cancer Council in health education. Aside from that, I spend far too much time reading health food blogs, celebrity blogs and going to nightclubs!

Jules: I’m just into my second year of a Juris Doctor Law degree at Monash University and that takes up a lot of my time. Outside of that… I have been watching a lot of X-Files and Survivor and just started on the new season of The Bachelor. I also work at the Queen Victoria Market as a Tea and Coffee Merchant!

Judy: Oh oops, I also forgot to say I’ve started the new season of The Bachelor, so yeah that takes up quite some time.

Who do you live with?

Jules: I live with 3 friends who I’ve lived with for about 5 years. We live in a skinny single fronted terrace and we enjoy watching the aforementioned television programs together. We also generally read the paper together each morning; Sofia does the cryptic, Lily reads the quiz, I give my opinions and Annie frequently steals the paper.

Judy: Funnily enough, I also live with three friends that I’ve lived with for about five years. What do we do? Gosh, I guess if I’m being honest we pretty frequently stand around in our active wear and discuss food and exercise at length… We are currently living in Clifton Hill after living in North Fitzroy for about 3 years and I think we are all still secretly mourning the old house.

Jules: Why do you mourn the old house?

Judy: It was in the best location and had so much character and we had the best times there!

What are you excited about in the year to come for Road to Refuge?

Judy: I’m excited about continuing on the theme of intersectionality and hitting on a lot of issues currently not talked about enough in this sector.

Jules: I am excited about the regional tours this year in Warrnambool and Bendigo, very excited to meet with the students and to do some work with the events team and do some events in those areas as well!

Judy: Oh cool idea Jules! We should definitely talk events!

Get to know Road to Refuge’s volunteers: Jules and Judy

Summer Think List

Whether you have days to spend on the beach getting stuck into a book, or just an hour to while-away in air conditioning, Summer is a good time to catch up on reading, watching, and listening to some of the great resources out there. That’s why we’ve created our very own Think List: a resource for you of relevant and engaging pieces to read/watch/listen which we’ve done the hard work of digging up.

Read

This article on The Conversation, about people seeking asylum as Australia’s next wave of entrepreneurs, is the perfect short positive read to get you started and discusses the long term contributions people seeking asylum can make to society.

One of our favourite projects, Behind the Wire, documents the stories of people who have experienced mandatory detention in Australia. All the narratives – of varying lengths – are available to read through the website. One of Road to Refuge’s favourites is Donna’s Story – we’ve also featured Donna in our #WCW series on our Instagram account.  Donna came to Australia in 2000 as a 13 year old  with her family by boat from Kurdistan and is now a lawyer living in Melbourne studying a Masters of International Relations at Melbourne University.

Donna from Behind the Wire
Donna from Behind the Wire

For subscribers of the Saturday Paper, there are a host of relevant articles to delve through in the archives. If you don’t subscribe (yet) but want to dip a toe in, we recommend Children Behind Bars, or the harrowing account of The Death of Khodayar Amini, both detailing how the difficulties facing people seeking asylum rarely end upon reaching Australia.

New York Times Magazine’s The Dream Boat is an older read, but a visceral, lengthy account of a boat journey from Indonesia to Australia.

If you have some time and are looking for a book to get stuck into, we suggest Ben Rawlence’s newly released City of Thorns which follows the lives of nine people living in Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, or Klaus Neumann’s Across the Seas: Australia’s Response To Refugees: A History.

For those who love poetry – Manal Younas’ collection, Reap, was released at the end of 2015. Some of Road to Refuge’s team were lucky enough to attend the launch and got shivers from Manal’s gutsy powerful performances of her spoken word and the book does well to capture this spirit.

Cover of Manal Younus' book, Reap
Cover of Manal Younus’ book, Reap

Watch

If you’ve only got a moment, we recommend using it to watch a short film – both Nora Niasari’s The Phoenix and Lukas Schrank’s Nowhere Line played at our Film for Thought event in 2015, and we’ve been thinking about them both since.

Mary Meets Mohammed and Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea are two of our go-to documentaries, both of which are available on DVD, and we can’t overlook an old favourite feature film, Bahman Ghobadi’s Turtles Can Fly, from 2005.

In Television, the SBS series Go Back to where you Came From takes Australian families on a reverse journey of a person seeking refuge, season three is available to watch online now.

Clouds Over Sidra
Clouds Over Sidra

Virtual Reality film Clouds Over Sidra follows twelve-year-old Sidra living in the Za’atari camp in Jordan. While the experience is designed to be in 3D, it’s available to watch online, and is a moving piece as a short film alone.

Listen

As a 40 minute jumping in point, Devil’s Avocado: Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Boat People is a great overview of the politics surrounding people seeking refuge in Australia.

For a little more detail – this episode of The Conversation’s Speaking With podcast talks to Shanthi Robertson and Ien Ang on migrants, refugees and Australia’s place in Asia.

For a story to get swept up in, listen to This American Life’s episode 560: Abdi and the Golden Ticket – although centered around Abdi’s journey to the USA not to Australia, this podcast is well worth listening to nonetheless.

This American Life: Abdi and the Golden Ticket
This American Life: Abdi and the Golden Ticket

Happy reading/watching/listening! We’d love to hear what you think in the comments box and if you want to share your favourites, that’d be great too.

Road to Refuge’s Think List will be a seasonal series released in Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring and is aimed a tool and guide for you to engage with the best writing, films and podcasts on people seeking asylum and refugee issues. 

Summer Think List

Road to Refuge goes to Horsham!

At the beginning of December 2015, the Schools Team took a trip to the city of Horsham, a four-hour train ride from Melbourne. We were invited by Horsham College to spend two days at their school conducting workshops with their students and those from the nearby Dimboola Memorial Secondary College.

The Road to Refuge Schools Team works with metropolitan and regional schools to run workshops across Victoria. We aim to build empathy and understanding of the issues faced by people seeking safety in Australia by engaging students and giving them the tools to have informed discussions with people in their communities about those issues.

In Horsham, we ran eight workshops with classes from Horsham and Dimboola Colleges, reaching a total of 300 students across two days!

Road to Refugee at Horsham College
Julia running a workshop

Our interactive workshop started off with an introduction to the key words and definitions used when talking about refugees and people seeking asylum.

We then ran a choose-your-own-adventure activity based on one of Road to Refuge’s character: a young Iranian girl called Layla who travels to Australia with her family to escape persecution in her home.

Along the way, Layla and her family make decisions such as:

  • whether to stay in Iran or flee to Indonesia,
  • whether to apply for refugee status with the UNHCR in Jakarta or to take a boat to Australia,
  • what items to bring with them, and
  • what to leave behind.

We encouraged students to step into Layla’s shoes and make those decisions themselves. Our role as facilitators was to give further insights into the consequences of each decision and unpack how students felt when faced with those choices.

A challenge throughout the workshops was balancing the delivery of occasionally heavier and more serious content throughout a (hopefully) fun and engaging session.

One of the activities we ran required students to draw a backpack and list four things they would take with them when fleeing their homes indefinitely. Most students chose very practical items, such as food, water, weapons, travel documents, and birth certificates. Some were more sentimental, and chose to take photos, their teddies, even their pets.

We had a laugh when one student earnestly shared his backpack, which included ‘that thing in the Hunger Games that you stick in a tree and water comes out and Allen’s snakes.’

The Horsham tour was an incredible learning opportunity for the entire team, especially Annie and I as first time facilitators. It was hugely rewarding to have students actively engaging with our sessions, asking questions and wanting to learn more about the topic.

Annie and I as successful first-time facilitators.
Annie and I as successful first-time facilitators.

We were able to have frank discussions about Australia’s policies and it was encouraging seeing them realise the complexities of the issues and asking for ways to respond to the situation, which brought on a great sense of achievement for the whole team.

Road to Refuge goes to Horsham!

The Fence Comedy Debate – the story of an idea so absurd, it might just (in fact it did) work

‘What if we had a comedy debate … to discuss asylum seeker issues?’

The idea seemed so absurd, it might just work.

Dana Affleck, Road To Refuge’s founder, came to me with the beginnings of The Fence Comedy Debate in mid-2014 after we worked on a web promo together earlier that year. I was keen to direct the event and so away we went…

WHAT WE WANTED

The main game with holding The Fence was to engage an audience that would otherwise remain disengaged. Comedy’s accessibility made it an effective way of doing that. By dispelling the stigma surrounding the issue through light hearted satire, we hoped to comically illuminate the ridiculousness of how we deal with asylum seekers and educate the audience as to why the policies are inherently flawed.

That’s why we came up with the far-fetched debate topic of ‘Should we build a fence around the sea borders of Australia?’ – an asylum seeker policy so ridiculous and so unbelievably counter-productive, you might just believe it was being proposed by the Government.

The Fence Comedy Debate - Julian Burnside

HANG ON, ARE YOU STILL SURE ABOUT MIXING COMEDY AND ASYLUM SEEKERS?

I was always aware of the very real human cost at the core of the asylum seeker debate. This meant the comedic tone of the event had to be inch-perfect. The Fence was an evening to lampoon the lamentable state of affairs and draw humour from where there is very little. But the last thing we wanted was to make light of the issue.

Hence the parameters were set early. We made it absolutely clear from the start that The Fence’s debaters had to be unambiguously comedic. That left it up to the audience to use the energy from the night to begin talking and learning more about asylum seekers once they left the venue.

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DID WE PULL IT OFF?

Hell yeah we did. The night was a huge success. We had an extremely talented cast of comedians (the who’s who of the Australian Comedy business) and advocates who performed including Julian Burnside, Cal Wilson, Judith Lucy, Lehmo, First Dog on the Moon, Jessie Taylor and Akmal Saleh. Without their expertise and professionalism, the evening wouldn’t have been nearly as successful.

We had a sold out audience of 700 and the energy in the jam-packed RMIT Storey Hall helped to counter my (and maybe some of my co-organisers) nerves on the night.

The Fence Comedy Debate Audience

AND today for the first time ever, you get to see just how much of a success it was because just below this sentence is the full video of The Fence which we’ve just launched on Road to Refuge’s YouTube Channel!

I’m excited and you should be too.

THANK YOU NOTES

  • The event’s producer – Carolina Fonseca – who assembled the talent
  • Arthur Penn and The Funky Ten, who were recruited late in the piece to open the show and crashed through any nervous energy that was lingering in the audience and set the night off to the best of starts
  • Our art director, Roxanne Haley who whipped up an amazing set on very little notice including Judith Lucy’s throne which was a huge talking point on the night
  • And to you guys for coming on the night if you did and/or re-living The Fence with me by reading my blog post
The Fence Comedy Debate – the story of an idea so absurd, it might just (in fact it did) work

What have we been doing in 2015?

It’s been a massive year for Road to Refuge – in less than twelve months, we have rapidly expanded to a team of 30 volunteers – and this is indicative of our growth as a whole.

For those new to Road to Refuge, and for those wanting to look back on our best year yet, here is a quick glimpse of what we’ve been up to in 2015!

Our Schools team ran 22 school workshops at 13 different schools across Melbourne’s inner and outer suburbs, as well as regional areas of Victoria. We presented workshops to almost 1000 students and presentations to 50 staff.

Horsham Schools Tour

The Road to Refuge Schools team ran two regional school tours:

  • The first tour went to Shepparton, Echuca and Mooroopna, reached almost 500 students and 40 teachers in four days over July, and concluded with a screening of Mary Meets Mohammad.
  • Our second tour went to Horsham in December and spoke to over 300 Year 7-9 students from Horsham College and Dimboola Memorial Secondary College.

The Community Education Team ran workshops for a total of 170 attendees, some run by Road to Refuge and others in partnership with not for profit organisations.

A highlight of 2015 was The Fence comedy debateJudith Lucy, Julian Burnside, First Dog on the Moon, Cal Wilson, Lehmo, Jessie Taylor and Akmal Saleh in front of a sold out crowd of 700. If you missed the event you can catch a glimpse and have a chuckle here.

The Fence Comedy Debate

The Events Team put on the third Read Between the Wines event on A Country Too Far, with a panel including writers Arnold Zable and Judith Rodriguez. We ran Women Who Seek Safety, a sold out event at the Wheeler Center, focused on the issues specifically faced by women seeking refuge. Finally our Film for Thought short film evening this month was so popular, people were using standing room just so they didn’t miss out!

The Coffee Cart team had a presence at many events throughout the year, including the Palm Sunday Walk for Justice, Amnesty International’s Candle Day and Amnesty Refugee Network’s Festival of Hope on Refugee Day, as well as several community festivals.

In 2015, we debuted our Coffee Cup Project for Refugee Week. Over 37,000 cups were distributed to customers by 29 cafes across Melbourne, all stamped with Road to Refuge branding and website to bring refugees and their journeys into the days of the coffee-drinking public.

Road to Refuge Coffee Cup Project

Looking ahead, 2016 is going to be even better. Keep updated here on the blog and sign up to our newsletter to receive regular invites and news of the exciting projects we already have in the works for next year!

// RTR Team

What have we been doing in 2015?