The Importance of Faith

Yesterday, after the kids’ performance, the audience was invited to ask questions or make comments. The questions were dense and used sophisticated language – we really are very ignorant – but one raised a pertinent point for me about survival. 

An audience member respectfully asked about the place of religion/faith in the journeys of the refugees. The kids predominantly fled from Iraq and Syria, the world’s hotspots, through secondary places like Jordan. The kids identify predominantly as either Muslim or Christian. 

They responded that their faith is irrelevant in the friendships that they have built together, and has been instrumental to their survival. 

Their faith enabled hope to flame in very hope-less situations. That hope enabled them to keep moving forward and to keep fighting for freedom. 

Often in the mainstream media, refugees are depicted as manipulative and cunning tricksters who know how wonderful Australia is, and plot to come here because they don’t want to be in their place of birth; they want to pillage what we have. Achmed (not sure about spelling), an outgoing 19 year old, here for less than a year, fled Syria with his family and said, along the lines of, he is grateful to be in Australia, to be safe and to be free, but if his village hadn’t been razed he would love to still be in Syria. And I get this. 

No one wants to leave their homeland behind when all is safe, never to return, never to see it again. Even when I travel, my home is Australia, as much as I feel at home in many other countries. If I was in a situation where I had to flee my homeland to stay alive, never to return and never to see the many people I love, I would be devastated. When this departure is a choice, the impact is different. 

Further to that, and back to the point I started making (obviously still processing – significant too that we saw it on the day that Paris was attacked), I often in recent times have suggested that our youth are not resilient. They suffer in their lives, and become drowned and suffocated by their suffering. They don’t know how to move forward, how to survive. 

I wonder if that is due to a lack of faith … in anything. 

I am not a Christian, and have never been. I am religious though. I only found a name for my religion in my early twenties but I had been practicing my entire life. One of my earliest memories is sitting on the back verandah of the flat my parents lived in on Petersham Road in Marrickville, talking to the moon. I’m sure my memory is idealised; I was only three, and the flat and world seemed so big around me, yet the moon was so close. As my childhood progressed I would often talk to the higher beings, and these conversations, as well as the faith that there was more, sustained me. 

I survived. 

Similarly, these refugees have survived. 

Is our society disconnecting at the most basic level because many individuals have no faith? 

I do believe that this disconnection creates the opportunity for extremists to recruit. After all, we all want to belong somewhere and to something. I’m not saying that dogmatic, often hypocritical, organized forms of religion are the way to go. I’m suggesting that maybe faith permits us a path to follow or a hand to hold in bad times; an awareness of something greater or bigger than ourselves. 

And maybe, just maybe, that’s where we have collectively let our kids down. Decadence and capitalism do not offer that hope. 

True Courage

As is becoming the norm, I am still processing what I am about to write about and I truly hope that my words do the theatre production Tree of Life – Recovery justice. 

A couple of weeks ago my very old school friend, Kylie, asked if I wanted to see the production with her. It is refugee children telling their stories. I immediately said yes and have been excited since. Today we saw it. 

It is produced by Treehouse Productions/Theatre. It is overseen by a school teacher and a psychologist. It stars the students of Miller High School in Liverpool. The students are all refugees and most have only been in Aistralua for one to two years. English is their second language and they have all fled from horror to be in Australia. 

From the second the lights went down I felt that what I was about to experience was transformational. 

O. M. G. 

And I must pause in my writing. And my reflection lest the tears bucket down. 

Anyone that knows me could predict my opinion on refugees and asylum seekers. We are all human beings, and we all deserve safety and happiness, and it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that every other human and animal is okay. 

Easy to hold that opinion. Easy to believe in every bit of it. Easy to watch Go Back To Where You Came From, cry a few tears, get angry, become passionate, and switch the television off to continue living my life.

Today will not be switched off. And the tears prick the back of my eyes and my nose starts to tingle. 

There is an authenticity and magic in storytelling that transforms. Tree of Life embodies this. 

The piece opened with the kids on stage, barefoot, black track pants, and a solid colored t-shirt. Kylie and I had laughed before the lights went down because we each had a tissue in hand in preparation. We didn’t expect that the opening sequence would realise the necessity of our preparation but thank god we had the tissues. 

A moving physical embodiment of their stories and the necessity of community. 

We heard a selection of childhood stories first. Normal child life stories: taking dad’s car keys and the car, watching movies with friends, normal children’s lives. And we all laughed. 

Then the horror. As their villages changed and their country changed, the horror was unleashed. The kids introduced the segment of their story whilst other students performed a montage. Sound effects and the occasional visual on a screen added to the authenticity of the atmosphere, and added a layer of emotion for the audience. Deeply moving. 

Seeing the stories of the kids performed by the kids – my god, their courage and bravery – we take our freedom so much for granted. We take our safety for granted (thank you to our defense forces and police officers). We take our homes and our families and our friends for granted. 

We truly do live in the lucky country. 

And from the horror, we move to celebration. The kids achieving their Learners License, being granted refuge in Australia, families being reunited here, an education. 

Kids telling their stories. The power of theatre. The power of education. 

As they bowed, and we all stood, so overcome, the kids became kids and looked truly humbled. What a blessing for healing that they can share the stories of their lives and see the transformational effect on an audience of Australian adults realizing how truly blessed they are. 

Please look this production up. Please go and see it. Please let me know if you do, how it made you feel. 

I wish I could take my kids to see it. I will be trying to make something happen. I think everyone should see it, but especially our media giants and every single politician. Should be mandatory viewing. 

Then our world may start to know peace. 

And embrace compassion. 

I am blessed to have a friend like Kylie who found it and shared it. 

Do yourself a favour … It will change your world. 

What a week!

I used all of the data on my phone by the end of last weekend. Woopsy. And I haven’t had internet at home through laziness. But it was nice to be disconnected for a few days. I think sometimes that our ‘connection’ can actually inhibit real connection to our lives. Maybe I shouldn’t generalise that to everyone and should focus it on myself. I sometimes feel more connected without so much connection.

And then on Tuesday my water pump in the car went and so I am still car-less. Feeling quite liberated in that bizarrely. Fortunately I have a supermarket across the road. But in all, I have felt quite liberated this week. I have been taking time out for myself, especially after a few crazy weeks to start the term. The conflict seems to have dissipated at work and I haven’t had any parent complaints for a week now.

An interesting education week too. Friday week ago my Year 11 (now Year 12) class were asked to write their opinions and thoughts regarding refugees and asylum seekers in Australia. I was so shocked. The Australian media has so much to answer for. I realised how dominant the media is in shaping a very racist ad ignorant Australia. This was further emphasised when we started watching our set text for Discovery, Go Back To Where You Came From РSeries 1.

If you haven’t ever watched this program (screened annually on SBS in Australia), it focuses on six diverse Australians and puts them through the process refugees experience in reverse. The experiences of the voluntary participants and the way that they process what they experience makes for confronting television, irrespective of your own beliefs.

I was infinitely more curious as to how my class would respond when 95% of them were expressing media opinion and hype. By the end of the first of three episodes, two people were visibly upset. One of my students stayed during break, too upset to move. Interestingly, and movingly, she was angry at her own ignorance and lack of compassion to others prior to watching the first episode. There were more tears during the second episode and interestingly, one of the participants who shared views similar to those of my students, inspired angry comments from them for her ignorance. It is rare that students openly spit venom or opinion at the screen. In fact, this is the first time it has ever happened to this extent. I was impressed.

I didn’t view the third episode with them but the teacher they had in lieu of me said that there were a lot more tears.

I consider this success.

My students felt something, discovered something, responded.

This is rare.

It will be interesting to hear what they say on Monday. I am excitedly looking forward to it.