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Building community connections + What makes you feel at home?

26 June 2019

What makes you feel at home?

Hi everyone,

Did you know that 1.4 million refugees needed urgent resettlement in a third country in 2019 but the number of available resettlement places dropped to just 75,000 in 2017? At this rate, it would take 18 years for the most vulnerable refugees to be resettled.

That’s one of the many compelling reasons to mark Refugee Week and honour the courage, resilience and contributions of refugees.

Last week we held local events from a food drive in North Melbourne and a winter wish list drive with other agencies in the Dandenong offices, to a simulated experience of shelter in a refugee camp, food and resettlement in Albury and Canberra, to choirs, puppet shows and musical performances in Wollongong.

On Refugee Day, we also had the pleasure of hosting David Coleman, the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migration Services and Multicultural Affairs at our office in Wagga Wagga. Minister Coleman spoke to refugees and our staff about the experiences of refugees settling in their new communities

We also filmed this quick snapshot of Aliir Aliir  (Sydney Swans), Munjed Al Muderis (orthopaedic surgeon), Joseph Deng (athlete) and Ajok Marial (activist and model) – four Australians of refugee background who shared a memory of the first time they felt at home in Australia.

Spotlight on Members

This week I want to share some of the incredible work of our Red Cross members. I’ve included a few of those I’ve heard of recently in the sections below.

Building community connections

While I’ve talked about it before the ‘Let’s Talk’ program is a fantastic example of the work of Red Cross members. It is run and mainly funded by members from nearly 50 Branches across NSW. The program responds to the physical and mental health and wellbeing of farmers and rural communities and mitigate against the increasing levels of social isolation resulting from a number of environmental, climatic, economic and social stresses. They do this by providing funding for a variety of events in rural communitiesSince July 2018 there have been 55 separate events with approximately 7,500 people attending. 

Another completely different example is in Blackburn. Like many councils around Melbourne, the Whitehorse City Council run regular citizenship ceremonies for newly arrived Australians. Members of the Blackburn branch are the catering team but they are not only dishing out food, but sharing hugs and stories with the new Australians. The Red Cross emblem attracts many of the individuals and their families and many of them come up to share stories of how Red Cross people had supported them in their homeland, before they had arrived in Australia.

And of course there is the all-important contribution to fundraising generally. For example, through the ‘village tea party’ in south-west Western Australia which raised funds for our Disaster Relief and Recovery work. 

‘Village tea party’ at the Naturaliste Unit in south-west Western Australia.

We know that it takes a village to get something done right so our members are working closely with community partners. The Murray Bridge Branch in SA is collaborating with the Aboriginal Sobriety Group Lakalinjeri Tumbetin Waal on our Reconciliation Quilt Project. This includes sharing ideas and lending their quilting skills. The Tawonga Branch has partnered with the local CFA to support young volunteers. The CFA runs training for Year 9 and 10 students from schools in Corryong, Tallangatta and Mt Beauty. Red Cross members provide the young trainees with breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea.

One of the ways our members connect with the community is through the Pillowcase Project, like this one in northern NSW. 

In and around Narrandera, branches are assisting families affected by the Tabulam fire. They are also connecting with the Saltwater Women’s Art Group in Ballina Group in Ballina each week to work on projects such as reusable shopping bags and present Pillowcase Project sessions, getting children prepared for emergencies. The important connections of our members and branches are key to bringing the work we do to the different parts of the country.

Changes and shifts

In amongst all this, how people want to engage in their communities and with organisations like us is changing. We’re seeing it and we’re not alone in this. I found this article interesting – 'Nothing Lasts Forever; Service groups face choice to evolve or fold'. The Country Women’s Association in NSW and ACT have started virtual meetings and a virtual Branch to make it easier to participate. They are also having success in building their member base by offering more flexibility, social connection and focussing on pushing for changes on critical local issues.  I also found this an interesting read - 'Invisible volunteering' - the online army of millennials quietly contributing in regional communities.

I see many Red Cross members leading the way with changes. For example, the team in northern NSW has started the Red Cross Tweed Youth Club which focusses on issues that affect young people like youth mental health and homelessness. 

When I was with the folks in Narrandera from the Greater Western region of NSW, I heard stories of how they are shifting from their formal Branch approaches to be more flexible and have more time for friendship (vs formality).  After starting as an ‘ex-refugee’ social group in Coffs Harbour three years ago, this year the group decided that they now want to help other new migrants and have formed a Red Cross Club. They want to focus on assisting migrants in transition, emergency preparedness within the migrant community and fundraising. To allow for younger, working people to become involved, a group has decided to establish a new club in the Newcastle area which will meet weekday evenings. And importantly, Red Cross in Murwillumbah has been rejuvenated since helping with recovery after floods in 2017.

Biggenden Friends of Red Cross and picture frames they made.

The Biggenden Friends of Red Cross meet monthly to discuss many hot Red Cross topics such as how to assist asylum seekers and refugees, emergency preparedness, as well as broader topics around the roles and principles of a humanitarian organisation. They also engage in organising Red Cross first aid training and kits, Red Cross hospital visiting and Hands on Care service, and making Trauma Teddies. The Friends of Red Cross group comprised predominantly of primary school children and their parents, and the group so far has grown to about 30 members.

Global connections

Photo: @REDxYouth | Celebrations at the annual Solferino conference.

We’re also learning a lot from our REDxYouth team, paving the way for young changemakers to help shape the future. Last week, our REDxYouth members were at the annual Solferino conference in celebration of the International Federation's 100th anniversary. They discussed the Movement’s future directions and Strategy 2030, which identifies five challenges for us: climate change; migration and identity; crisis and disaster; health; and values, power and inclusion. I encourage you to check them out on Instagram.

Australian National Outlook  panel update

Last week I joined David Thodey (Chair, CSIRO), Ken Henry (Chair, NAB), Kylie Rampa (CEO, Lendlease Property Australia), and James Deverell (Director, CSIRO Futures) to launch the Australian National Outlook 2019. The Outlook projects what Australia may look like in 2060 and if current trends continue, the forecast is bleak.

For over 18 months, we took part in robust discussions with senior leaders across Australia’s business, academic, not-for-profit and other sectors, about the challenges facing Australia and what we need to do to ensure our collective future in 2060 is bright. It was an important opportunity to privilege the voice of community - thanks to the great work our staff, volunteers and members do every day in communities across Australia. 

Talk to you next week.