“I’m a local”: Lismore’s Refugee Week initiative aims to change perceptions
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 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.”
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, a 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, including, with special thanks:
St Vincent De Paul shop, Republic of Coffee, Music Bizarre, Lismore Library, Goonellabah Library, Lismore City Council Chambers, Book Warehouse, The Bank Café, DragonFly Café, FlatTop Boogie Barbers Shop, Catholic Schools Office, Thomas George's office, Social Futures, Lismore High School, Richmond River High School, St Carthage's Primary School, Our Lady of Help Christians Primary School, St John's College Woodlawn, Trinity Catholic College.
Meet those featured on the “I'm a local” posters
“I am a local. Lismore has nice warm arms that welcomed me and my family to this community. It has become my home.”
Aggrey was born in South Sudan and has lived in Lismore since 2008. He started his schooling here at Wyrallah Road Public School and is now a student at Trinity Catholic College. Aggrey is an active member of Thistles Soccer Club and the Lismore City Rugby Club. He loves his school and ‘hanging out with his friends'.
“I am a local. I love Lismore because it has very good people and everything is so close – the shops and school.”
Mary was born in South Sudan. She has lived in Lismore since 2005 and loves being a local. Mary is a proud mother and grandmother. Mary smiles a lot.
“I am a local. 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.”
Cassie was born in Kenya and is a proud mum. She 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 her local basketball team. She is currently studying the ‘Preparing For Success' tertiary preparation program at Southern Cross University.
“I am a local. I am a local because I participate in my local community. I play in the annual African All Stars vs Lismore Legends football match, attend my local church and have studied and continue to study locally. I am a member of Lismore Thistles Soccer Club. It has nice, friendly members who have helped me learn many skills.”
Anthony was born in South Sudan and has lived in Lismore since 2008. He has been a student at Wyrallah Road Public School and Lismore High School and is now studying a Bachelor of Nursing at Southern Cross University.
“I am a local. I am a member of the Lismore African Choir. I love working with people, the feeling of being connected to each other and supportive of each other. At church, I have met people who inspire me and who love me unconditionally.”
John was born in Democratic Republic of the Congo, has lived in three countries and came to Lismore in 2015. John has worked as a volunteer disability support worker for people with special needs in the community. He is an early childhood educator who is dedicated to supporting children realise their potential in education. John is currently studying a Bachelor of Social Welfare at Southern Cross University.
“I am a local. I am part of the community by playing sport. I have made quite a lot of friends here just playing sport. I was kind of shy in kindergarten. Now I go to Trinity Catholic College I have lots of friends, who I hang out with every day. I'm proud of who I am and happy to live in Lismore.”
Augustine was born in South Sudan and has lived in Lismore since 2008. He started his schooling at Wyrallah Road Public School and is now a student at Trinity Catholic College. Augustine is a very keen sportsman, starting to play soccer at six and now playing rugby union as well.
Mary Ajok, Cassie Aguot and Aguil Deng
“I am a local. We love the opportunities the Lismore community offers to our family.”
Grandmother, mother and daughter: Mary, Cassie and Aguil.