Friday, December 21, 2012

Celebrating the little things: One Direction and refugees have more in common than you may think

What does Niall Horan, the Irish lead singer in boy band sensation One Direction, want for Christmas? The action packed FIFA 13, a racetrack ready Audi R8, a new guitar? Maybe. But like most of us at this time of year, what Niall really wants most of all is to “go home” to spend a quiet and peaceful Christmas with his family relaxing in his native Ireland. Or in his words – care of the Irish Times – “We have little traditions like going to the pub on Christmas Eve and watching telly all day. It will be the same as always and that’s what I love about it.”

How do I know this you may ask, being outside the usual boy band demographic? Because my 16 year old One Direction obsessed daughter Elysia, also currently thousands of miles away from home, sends me frequent, loving and slightly manic updates via Skype and email about her current adventures as part of a school exchange in Japan. And from what I can gather, her new friends apparently are equally crazy about young Niall as their visiting Australian guest.

I can’t wait for Elysia to arrive home – on Christmas Eve – happily just in time for the annual family gathering. And like Niall, we will be enjoying a traditional get together with family and friends.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Mama Hawa - transforming girl's lives with education

Mama Hawa in the classroom.
“Illiteracy in women is the reason why they
can't demand their rights”

Her genteel bespectacled looks belie the steely determination that 2012 Nansen Refugee Award Laureate Hawa Aden Mohamed has demonstrated she has in spades.

The founder of the Galkayo Education Centre for Peace and Development (GECPD) in Puntland, Somalia, Hawa has overcome the opposition of war lords, local leaders and the dangers of operating in one of the world’s worst conflict zones to help transform the lives of thousands of girls  in Somalia by providing education ,vocational training,shelter and protection.

A traditional patriachical society fractured by two decades of conflict has led to Somalia being rated as the fifth worst place to be a woman. High maternal mortality rates, female genital mutilation (FMG), rape, lack of health care and opportunities and poor access to education all mean that Somalia women and girls are extremely vulnerable.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Millions of people can’t go back to where they came from

This week SBS broadcast the second series of Go Back to Where You Came From featuring a cast of celebrities experiencing first-hand the daily reality of life for millions of refugees around the world. Their experience is a brief glimpse about what it’s like to live under the daily threat of attack in Mogadishu or to just try and survive in remote and barren refugee camps in Ethiopia.

Supporting refugees and displaced people in these crises situations is the core work of Australia for UNHCR.Our donors have been major funders of emergency relief in Somalia, Afghanistan and Ethiopia. Sometimes it is difficult to get your head around the sheer size of displaced populations we are dealing with. For example as at 15 August 2012, there were 165,081 individuals and 40,187 households in the Dollo Ado camps featured in the SBS series. That’s the equivalent to a city the size of Cairns!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

World Refugee Day – A Reminder of Poignant Journeys

World Refugee Day today (20 June) is a key date in the Australian for UNHCR calendar, not least because of the fact that many of our staff here in Australia are themselves former refugees.

Nearly half of our staff are former refugees coming from former conflict zones like Cambodia and Sierre Leone and more recent crises such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia.

Many continue to have family and friends remaining behind in refugee camps.

For our staff and volunteers, working with Australia for UNHCR is a way to give back to UNHCR and support people in need.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

International Women's Day 2012 - Part TWO

International Women's Day is a day to celebrate the achievements of women the world over and acknowledge how far we have come. For Australia for UNHCR, however, it is also a day to recognise particular needs of displaced women and how they contribute to refugee communities. Australia for UNHCR supports International Women's Day and, as such, is working to highlight the difficulties faced by these women, along with their strength and resilience.

In countries all over the globe, in places such Afghanistan, Nepal and also Aminata’s home country of Sierre Leone (see part ONE), UNHCR has developed a series of special programs to ensure women have equal access to protection, basic goods and services as they attempt to rebuild their lives. Special attention is given to forcibly displaced women who may face risks because of their specific circumstances. This includes pregnant and lactating women, older women, women with disabilities and female heads of households.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

International Women's Day 2012 - Part ONE

A few weeks ago, I attended the wedding of my good friends Aminata and Antoine. Theirs was a very Sydney love story. Boy meets girl at Opera Bar. Boy goes home to France. Love blossoms. Emails and texts fly back and forth across. Boy returns to Australia et voila! There we were overlooking the sunset harbor, toasting the health and happiness of our two dear friends. What made this occasion even more special than most was the joy everyone felt knowing the long and dangerous journey Aminata had travelled to get there.

Aminata was only 19 years old when rebels attacked her village in Sierra Leone and took her hostage. As she recounted, "I can still see their faces as if it were yesterday. I was standing frozen with my family when one of the rebels took my hand and ordered me to follow.