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Hope. The (mostly) uplifting one

We stood at the bottom of the rotten road, gazing with dread at the incline. Fifty kilo suitcases full of books needed to be hauled up the incline. It would temporarily break our new friend, K, to drag one of them up that hill to his lodgings.

My uni-student son, Angus, and I had arrived in Cisarua to see the new volunteer school that the refugee community was establishing. Their children would reach their new lives in a new country with the education to make it count.

Australia had just ensured these Hazara refugees would be trapped in Indonesia for a long time. A now-disgraced Australian politician had likened them to ants, declaring the “sugar” of an onward path to Australia was being taken “off the table.”

The Western occupation of Afghanistan had finally given the Hazara people the chance to take the millstone of centuries of oppression, slavery and genocide off their backs. So many children had been educated over these years, daughters and sons, right through to university level. Many more had gone on to careers in the public service and international bodies. The Western years in Afghanistan brought immeasurable pain, especially in the countryside, but for the Hazara, these were years where they could become proud of their ethnicity.

The community in this mountain town above Jakarta was mixed. Some Hazara had come direct from Afghanistan, since Taliban violence had started eroding their safety long before the West abandoned them last year. Others had come from the refugee enclaves of Pakistan. The latter communities had taken the opportunity to begin makeshift schools, since these people didn’t exist in Pakistan and had no rights. As the older students mastered levels, they would become teachers of the younger students, until the schools were solidly established.

The idea that the Cisarua community’s children should suffer most, deprived of crucial education over limitless years trapped in stateless limbo was unthinkable. So the community members had started to think about how the crisis could be rectified.

I had met K on Facebook. This dynamic youth, the same age as my sons, had lived a life incomparable to theirs. His older sister had left to marry an Australian citizen, and his brother was living in Australia too. His family had packed him out of the refugee community in Quetta, Pakistan, when terrorists blew up his school, killing his friends.

At 16, with false papers – because those were the only identity papers he could get – he took off across the world alone. The challenges he encountered gave me chills. It was only a phone-call from his brother that had him jump from embarking on a rickety boat to Australia. Australia had just changed its laws: if that fate had followed its path, he would have spent hellish years on Manus Island, a prisoner to Australia’s whim, where he would have emerged likely needing years of reparative care.

Instead, now 18 and free, he had already been shortlisted for an international award for a film produced from phone footage telling his story. He was in the leadership group for this dream of a school with three more experienced men. His exuberant personality drew in foreign supporters like me, keen to know more about this project run by volunteers.

The school had become possible because of a chance meeting. Jolyon Hoff, Australian filmmaker, based in Jakarta at that time, had met Muzafar Ali. The latter is an exhibited photographer and had worked for the UN in Afghanistan. He was determined that the children would not be left to sink into the despair spawned of new hopelessness that was besetting so many in the community. Together they planned how the first rent money for a house to become the school would be collected and the lease signed.

Alongside Muzafar, and his family, there was a former Hazara star and TV executive, and a young sociologist. Together with others in the community they inspired the hope and raised the money from what little the refugee community could spare for costs.

The process of establishing this tiny enterprise that grew and grew can be shared in Jolyon Hoff’s documentary, The Staging Post. It is the most uplifting story about the refugee experience that you will find. You won’t regret meeting these exceptional people.

Wonderful women and men came together to teach the students as volunteers. All nationalities in the refugee community were welcomed. The wider community became inspired by the hope fostered here. Women studied English after school. Other women and girls formed soccer teams and learnt to swim and do karate, activities difficult in their more constrained homelands. International bodies like the NSW teachers union and universities joined the project.

Some of the children could not remain in the Cisarua community as years dragged by and the funds to live, work rights never granted, drained away. Others, though, finally found their new homes in new countries. Almost every single child was accepted into age appropriate schooling, and the stories of their shining achievements lift the heart of all of us linked to this school that now mentors and aims to support similar projects across the region.

K was offered a university scholarship, glowing references by esteemed figures, a home and financial support by a variety of Australians. The fact that a close relative had arrived in an irregular fashion meant that Australia did not even contemplate the UN referral of his case.

Instead, America won this determined youth. He has gone on to work and study. He has completed a film course at the California College of the Arts. He has a punishing schedule of speaking bookings to educate about the refugee experience. He has mentored several young women from Kabul through secondary education in America, where he secured their scholarships. (He initially aimed to bring students from the Cisarua community to America, but it proved too difficult to gain visas.) Now he is filmmaking and has set up an organisation to raise money for the education of children in the refugee community around Quetta, where the small cost required can be prohibitive.

Muzafar and his wife have completed university in Australia, and he was recently accorded the 2022 Fred Hollows Humanitarian of the Year Award. The TV executive is in another commonwealth country, where his children keep astonishing all with their achievements.

The path out of limbo in Indonesia is grindingly slow for too many, and their wait is not done. My involvement in this project born of hope and resilience has been one of the best experiences of my life. It doesn’t take much financial assistance for us to enable this refugee community to take care of itself.

You too can become part of the family.

 

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16 comments

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  1. Lucy Hamilton

    I was instructed to write something uplifting. I hope this comes closer to the brief than most of mine. I’ll work on something even more hopeful in 2023 if the mood strikes. Maybe.

  2. Phil Pryor

    One hopes that Lucy’s effort on more hope will bring more hope and lessen the dreaded feeling of less hope, which those fearing less hope try to avoid…but one might well have less hope than ever of more hope appearing, Here’s hoping.

  3. New England Cocky

    Time for the Albanese LABOR government to do the ”Christian” thing at Christmas and release all the legal refugees from their various jails on Manus & New Guinea, Nauru plus the various foreign owned multinational hotels in Australia and fund restitution for years wasted while backward thinking pollies in the Canberra bubble played imperialist Grand Poohbars, as English language training, vocational training, business financing and all the responsibilities required by the various international treaties that Australian pollies of recent years have ignored.

  4. Clakka

    A fine and uplifting story Lucy Hamilton.

    The heart of a refugee.

    It is important news of the real life of ordinary folk doing what comes naturally – to seek and to learn about the world, its troves of knowledge, its joys, perils and vicissitudes, and improve the life of their children first, then their community and lastly themselves.

    To what end the incessant bombardment by the MSM of stories and images of mercantile and military insanity, and the exercise of power by paranoid leaders and their sycophants, both secular and theological? Do they want us to look over our shoulder or at least stand still, enervated, and for those vulnerable and prone, petrified by fear.

    Is it a smirking usurious quest to drive the status quo from circadian balance to an ecology of superiority and drunken dominion over everything? A set-up for the soporifics of bling and indulgence, and promotion of an “I’m alright, Jack” construction of castles in the air and hi-tech sieges? A divide and conquer armouring of the soul?

    Everything about the language, images and subliminal optogenetics used, seems set to drive an addiction to sensation, recurrent nightmares, a cringe from thoughtfulness, a xenophobia, and an easy recourse to blame, vengeance and glory via the conquests of industrialised warriors.

    Through an exercise in tautology, MSM and its reporters will cite an ethical duty to report. So be it, but does that say anything at all about what they go looking for, and the predomination and construction of their main stories and headlines. Do they accumulate brownie points via being (objective?) tough and inured, being other warriors on the battlegrounds? Fame or infamy attaching to them an obsession for righteous gravitas, a concealment of tears of sadness or joy, an alienation from the breadths and depths of beauty and human kindness. Can even they be unaffected, open, vulnerable and considerate of all things in the face of their contracted duty-bound actions and words? Is it the circumscription of reality via their practice that provides a gap for creeping cynicism, conspiracy and the propagation of further battlegrounds?

    It appears none of us can be unaffected. And being listeners and storytellers, it behoves us to be deeply observant, touchable and considerate – of ourselves and everything.

    For me, as time passed, it lingered that my earliest unknowingness was diverted from experience and dreaming by the words of others. And as I asserted self-determination, I gained by journeys and first hand experience, whilst at the same time vacuuming the beseechments of others. Eventually, so full, so clever, an ever learning, ever expanding cacophony of comparisons and exceptions. To what end? The artifice of a dutiful specialist by rote? Surely that’s no end.

    If pressed or should the mood strike, how long could it me take to make enough room, to empty, to give way to the journey of transformation and disintegration? They say there is a calculus and a theory for everything, but for time. And whilst we might go on telling our stories, there is no knowing of next, nor an end, so what is hope?

    Then seemingly out of nowhere comes The Staging Post, and I am touched by a familiarity.

    Is it because we’d been the recipients of news of the umpteenth revolution in Iran? And with the coming of FIFA, that it became a mere nod, subsumed to the indulgence of manic glories via the Punch and Judy show of football wars?

    Less than a week ago, somehow, my existence seems to have stitched together a circumstance. I awoke in the wee small hours to the radio left on. I did not reach over and turn it off, as the intro was beguiling … “Hope and Despair 10,000 kilometres from Home.”

    Yes, out of my dreams or nowhere came ‘A Disciplined Hope against Despair and the Loss of Self’. Disarmed and deeply touched, I found myself immersed in layer upon layer of complex stories about the turning of citizens into refugees. Stories revealing the stupidity, ignorance and arrogance of the presumption of supremacy and domination by oppression and brutalisation of women via the device of the hijab – to all those women, regardless of their politics or faith, a metaphor for freedom of choice.

    Oh, that I could endlessly exercise disciplined hope, and maintain the heart of a refugee.

    https://www.cbc.ca/radio/tapestry/hope-and-despair-10-000-kilometres-from-home-1.6674667

  5. Lucy Hamilton

    Spot on, Cocky

  6. Michael Taylor

    Our apologies, Clakka. Your comment was caught up in the system, hence not appearing promptly.

    All fixed.

  7. Lucy Hamilton

    Beautiful post Clakka. Ought to be a full post of its own on the site.

  8. Fred

    Hope… If that’s all you’ve got then you’re doing OK because you are a “half-glass full” type.

    If you’re a “half-glass empty” type, then you know you’re screwed. Looks like women in Afghanistan only have hope because the Taliban have gone back on their word to be “more moderate” by denying females the possibility of a tertiary education. This comes after the Taliban’s March 23 decision to bar girls from accessing education after the 6th grade. I’m disappointed that our involvement in Afghanistan did not bring lasting change for the better. Sorry for outlining the “negative” side of hope in an otherwise positive thread.

  9. Michael Taylor

    Fred, I saw a video this morning of young ladies at uni in Afghanistan after being told they could no longer study. They were distraught. The screams of anguish were very disturbing. 😢

  10. Fred

    MT: We are moments from 2023 with modern communications (mobile phones) available in some form in most of the world, yet ancient paradigms continue in many places. Education is the way forward, however is threatening to religious fundamentalism which may react badly, i.e. execution of protesters. It will take concerted revolution to change the leadership in Afghanistan, Iran, etc. to something approaching egalitarianism – once we get past the general push to the right. (Starting when Rupert’s in a box?) It will happen but maybe not in my lifetime.

  11. Michael Taylor

    Fred, earlier in our lifetime Aborigines were forbidden from attending university.

  12. Fred

    MT: Even worse was the stolen generation, up until the 1970s, and Howard’s opposition to the apology. One can understand why the indigenous cohort are less than happy with “whities”. Bring on the truth telling.

  13. Florence nee Fedup

    Worse, most First People were kept on reserves, out of sight.

  14. Michael Taylor

    Florence, that was all part of an evil policy. By keeping them in reserves – which they claimed was for their protection – the true motive was to prevent them from breeding with white Australians, and eventually dying out.

  15. Florence nee Fedup

    The only place one saw them was LA Peruse & a couple of streets in Redfern. As a child, I often went to Lake Cargelligo NSW, not an indigenous person in sight. I returned a few years ago to the Lake full of coloured people. As a child, I knew they were there, as my mother got staff from the reserve a few miles out of town. One drove miles down a road through a forest before coming to the settlement. One didn’t go to any homes but pulled up at the gate. The manager came out and took everything from the boot while checking, allowing us to go further. The homes were quite lovely, polished weatherboard. I was about nine at the time. I knew it was wrong. My father, a sheep & wheat cocky, was seething with anger. Michael, you would have loved how my mother dealt with Miss England or maybe English, an old maid at the Aboriginal Protection Board. It was adult women mum hired, not children.

  16. Florence nee Fedup

    IMO, many believe that whites would see them breed out. Mum was told she was not allowed while we were in Sydney to let her go near Redfern and La Perouse, I assume. Mum left my sister & me, plus the children of another family in the city, at the movies. She left us at Central tram station to get home to Annandale. The woman took off. We were in no danger because of our age. I was young but was capable of getting us home. Mum was not angry because she deserted us but because she didn’t tell her she wanted to visit relatives. Mum left her there until we went back to the bush.

    Mum was told she had to pay wages where the women got one-fifth, the rest going to the Protection Board. She was NOT to pay them more. So mum sent the four-fifths to the board, paying them a full wage. I suspect few got their money back.

    They would arrive with a suitcase of rags, and immediately, mum would replace them with decent clothes. Mum’s argument as she saw the person as a part of the family. They needed to be dressed appropriately.

    The last couple came from Cootamundra Home. A place of renown. We had moved to Yarramalong, on a dairy farm. Mum’s house assistant moved farm a farm role. Ronnie loved horses & gymkhanas, where he met & fell in love with the only son of a farmer who lived nearby. She was a lifelong Church of England follower. She attended church while living with us. However, no church except the Baptist church would marry her.

    Dad also had a young man from home in the north. Timid, no eye contact. I am ashamed that I was bought up believing aboriginals were childlike people abused by society. My lovely grandfather was wrong.

    It was then that I realised that our first people were one of the few races in the world that white men could not enslave.

    Today, one doesn’t see our first people making any eye contact or not standing up for themselves.

    I will warble on with one more yarn before I finish. This tale sounded amusing at the time but was terrible. We picked up a young woman from Lake Cargelico, who was given a bedroom next to my grandpa’s room. She wailed all night. Mum quickly understood she wanted to be at her home. It seems she was given no choice. Mum took her straight home.

    Michael, no one loved the Aboriginal Protection Board as my mother did. However, I think she and her parents had much to do with Indigenous people in her youth in the Forbes\Parks’ Orange region. My grandmother was a tailoress and acted as a midwife among them. I believe My grandfather was a baker who ran bakeries & eating places in many towns.

    The era I have written about was the forties & fifties. I hope I have not bored at all? Later on, I found Queensland worse in the ’60s. The difference in Queensland was that they were seen, not hidden; all knew they just turned a blind eye, doing nothing.

    As fifth-generation Australians of British & French descent, looking forward to the truth-telling we are promised. We have a great history of being proud of, much to offer an apology but nothing like the one we have all been taught.

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