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Families find their feet

Gwenda Spencer. Photo by Mardi Lumsden
Gwenda Spencer of the Helen Black group and The Gap Uniting Church has been volunteering to help refugees for over twenty years.

The waves of refugees she has assisted settle in Brisbane mirrored traumatic world events; first from Vietnam, then Yugoslavia, Bosnia, and countires in Africa and now Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Africa and Burma.

The Helen Black group’s role in settling refugees is flexible but can include finding housing, English classes, or attending a medical appointment. But Ms Spencer said being a friend to people was the most important thing.

“One member of our group stayed the night with a woman who was by herself with two children; it was such an overwhelming thing to be here.

“Then there was a child at high school who was having a Grandparents’ Day and they asked me to go along.

“One woman was short of all sorts of things, like bowls … because every time she got something she would sell it to repay the people in Yugoslavia who leant her money to get here.

“They threatened to attack her relatives if she didn’t keep paying.”

She said it was particularly hard for teenage boys who were often the bread winners of their families because they were treated like children in Australia.

“Some don’t have much education and feel rather resentful and bitter.”

Families also have to deal with different expectations of young people and different levels of parental authority.

Ms Spencer said many of the young Muslim women she knew chose to wear a head scarf even if their father didn’t insist on it.

Australians could learn a thing or two about family values from many asylum seekers.

“They have very strong family values and pride in their homes.”

To volunteer to help refugees contact the Multicultural Development Association in Brisbane or Amnesty International throughout Australia

Photo : Gwenda Spencer. Photo by Mardi Lumsden