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17 June 2020

Blackfriars marks Refugee Week 2020

‘What I value about working with other students who have either been refugees or…

‘What I value about working with other students who have either been refugees or migrants (or whose family members were refugees or migrants) is that they seem to have a deeper and richer intercultural understanding, and acknowledgement of the cultural makeup that makes Australia the great country it is.’

That’s how Year 12 Prefect Armon Houshmand sums up the value and impact of the cultural diversity among our student cohort at Blackfriars.

Armon was just one of the students who volunteered to share their families’ experiences of seeking refuge in Australia as part this week’s Pastoral Care sessions.

Each week on a Wednesday morning, Blackfriars boys gather in their home groups or House cohorts for a lesson dedicated to various themes related to their pastoral care and development – be it building positive relationships, learning about the Dominican Pillars, or a particular social justice cause. This week, Heads of House and student House Captains organised sessions all about refugee week, with several students being interviewed by their peers about their experiences.

Ms Anthea Osborne, Head of House (Denifle/Jarrett) says that when it comes to cultural diversity and refugee stories, she has learnt far more from her students than she ever anticipated.

‘My depth of understanding, compassion and empathy have all been developed through the experiences shared by our students with a refugee and migrant background,’ she says.

‘I have come to realise how privileged a life I have lived purely by being born in Australia and I feel so fortunate that we have been able to share this with so many others who have not been so lucky.’

Kazim Sarwari in Year 12 was another student who shared his story with his peers today. Kazim was born in Iran but comes from an Afghan background, and has also lived in Turkey and Syria in his short life so far.

Kazim says while he now feels at home in Australia, he is also proud of his background.

‘Some of the things I’m most proud about in my culture is the food, the wedding ceremonies, the music… we are respectful, kind and supportive people,’ he adds.

Armon, whose father was a refugee from Iran and whose mother has an Italian background, agrees that there is much to be proud of in his family’s culture, and what it can contribute to Australia’s rich diversity. He is also proud of his father for making the arduous journey to Australia via Pakistan, in order to flee religious persecution.

‘The house my dad was living in with his family was burnt down to the ground just because they aligned with Bahai beliefs, and not the Islamic beliefs of the regime,’ he explains.

‘Many members of the Bahai community in Iran, during the revolution, were given prison sentences longer than murderers, kidnappers or drug dealers, just because of their religion.’

Despite the persecution and destruction both Armon and Kazim’s families have faced, they both say they would like to visit their homelands one day, to get a better understanding of their origins.

‘Hopefully one day I get the chance to visit and explore, to look back at my country and be grateful for what I have here in Australia – and all the things I don’t have to worry about anymore,’ says Kazim.

Ms Osborne says she has enormous respect and value for the contributions of our refugee and migrant students – not just during refugee week, but each and every day.

‘The many cultures which are represented at Blackfriars allow us all to be enriched with so many different traditions, values and customs and I love the opportunity to learn from the boys.’

Throughout the week, our prayers and meditations have also been centred around Refugee Week. We remember that Jesus himself was a refugee, and as a Dominican community we are called to ensure all of God’s creation is treated with care and respect, especially those in need.