When does a refugee start to identify as a local? A series of posters explores that question in a new Lismore-based initiative for national Refugee Week (June 19 to 25), led by the St Vincent de Paul Society and Southern Cross University.
The ‘I’m a local’ poster project features seven refugees who now identify as locals. Three of them – John Mapatano, Anthony Leju and Cassie Aguot – are studying at Southern Cross University.
The aim of the project is to celebrate those people who came to Lismore as refugees, and to acknowledge their contributions to our community.
‘When does the refugee tag fall away? It’s a process, it’s a discussion, and it’s worldwide,’ said Leandro Mendes, Migrant Settlement Worker at St Vincent de Paul Society Lismore.
‘People who come here as refugees go through the process of being settled. But concurrently there’s also the process of the mainstream community looking, treating and interacting with them as people rather than with the refugee badge attached.’
Most of the people featured in the posters have been living in Lismore for six years or more. The youngest child featured, Aguil Deng, was born here.
‘I am a local,’ said Cassie Aguot (pictured) who was born in Kenya and came to Lismore in 2005. ‘I love being able to take my child to childcare just around the corner from my place. I am qualified and work as an Assistant in Nursing.’
Ms Aguot was born in Kenya and came to Lismore in 2005. Moving for a short while to Adelaide, Cassie became homesick for Lismore and came back here to live. She is a member of a local basketball team and is currently studying the ‘Preparing For Success’ tertiary preparation program at Southern Cross University.
Mr Mendes said identifying as a local was about establishing a sense of belonging.
‘The people in our posters already feel the connection to the Lismore community. They are proud to be here. Being part of a place is to be engaged with the day-to-day – whether it’s work, school, church, or the bakery around the corner. That’s being settled in action. It’s not an abstract concept. It’s very simple, tangible things.’
Rob Cumings, project coordinator at the University’s Equity and Diversity Office, said it was a positive project to be involved in.
‘It is impressive how engaged these people are with the community. All of them are involved in local sports teams, volunteering, working, studying. They really are taking every opportunity to benefit from being here in Lismore.’
Refugee Week is an annual, national event to raise awareness about the issues affecting refugees and celebrate the positive contributions made by refugees to Australian society.
The theme for 2017 Refugee Week is ‘With courage let us all combine’.
You can find the posters around Lismore during Refugee Week.