Shoulder to shoulder but worlds apart

Yesterday I visited a school in Adelaide. I was there to watch an assembly for a selection of classes in the afternoon. It was an assembly just any other. As part of National Youth Week the children had already spent the day doing various activities, as is normally the case during the last few weeks of a school term. They were already restless and excited.

The teachers stood at the back of the hall, like silent sentinels watching the kids, talk and laugh. Trying desperately to catch the eye of the boy in the New York Yankees baseball cap, who was being a little too rowdy. Wanting to tell him off with their eyes, not willing to shout his name and become the centre of attention.

The assembled teenagers finally settled down as five young students stepped in front of the crowd. Nervously they walked to the centre, standing shoulder to shoulder and holding hands. Somebody pressed play on an ancient CD player, the rhythmic drums only just audible over the murmur of bored, hot school kids.

The boys started their dance, girls giggled, everybody watched as they settled into their routine. All around the hall phones were lifted into the air, capturing memories.

It was at this point that reality hit me like a hammer in the chest. The boys that I was watching, the dancers with wide smiles and careless joy were Syrian. On Tuesday the town of Idlib was torn apart by bombs, and here in Adelaide five Syrian boys danced in front of a crowd of their peers without a care in the world. The stark contrast to news reports coming out of their home country was bitter sweet. The civil war in Syria is devastating, the fact that we can give hope to some fills me with joy, and hope for the future.

The school was the Adelaide Secondary School of English. A school that caters to the needs of refugees, teaching them English language skills to prepare them for further education so they can realise their full potential.

For the brief moment that I witnessed these young people come together in celebration of dance, music, and joy I realised that our differences are only skin deep. School can be a tough place for developing minds, especially when you have grown up in the chaos that many of these youngsters have. What struck me was that there was no embarrassment from any of the children. No awkward shifting away from being involved, just wholehearted acceptance.

I realised that this is why we do what we do at the Australian Refugee Association. I could give you a breakdown of where every single dollar we receive goes. I could tell you about the programs we run, the assistance we give and the practical and tangible changes we make to people lives, but the most important gift that your donation gives is freedom.

Freedom to smile, freedom to be safe, freedom to live, and freedom to love. Your generosity creates something that cannot have a value. Your donations create smiles.

Watching children from countries all over the world share in unbridled joy made me realise that this is who we are; this is what makes us great. This is Australia.