“The journey from Pakistan to Australia was frightening. But for me this journey has gifted me an opportunity. It has given me a chance to develop my strength. To be strong and embrace the changes in front of me with a smile.”
So writes Hakima Qurbani, one of five Bendigo students from refugee backgrounds who have shared their stories, their dreams and their gratitude in a new book that celebrates the strength diversity brings to a community.
Our World of Colour contains stories written in the style of open letters by Hakima and her Catherine McAuley College classmates Win Boe, Po Tu Tu, Bok Chol and Dhurjang Deng.
The students hail from Karen, Hazara and South Sudanese backgrounds, and their letters tell of their lives before their arrival in Australia, the challenges they have faced, the people and things for which they are grateful, and their hopes for the future.
The book was the product of a joint project between the English as an additional language students and the media class, known as the Gratitude Project.
The students first launched their book earlier this year, but it was sold out, so have recently published – through social organisation Kids’ Own Publishing – the second edition.
For the students, having a platform to share their stories with the wider community is significant.
Hakima said it was great that people were able to learn about their backgrounds.
Po Tu wanted to share his story when he first came to Australia, he said, but had no opportunity to do so until recently.
“I’m really thankful for that,” he said.
December Taw Thoo, a Karen student who undertook a similar initiative last year and acted as a mentor this year, said knowing a person’s background and their story “opened hearts and minds".
Po Tu said he wanted people to be curious and ask about his story, so knowledge could be spread.
During a panel event this week, Po Tu and Hakima spoke about the challenges they faced as new arrivals to Australia, and expressed how they wanted more people to understand these difficulties – the language barrier especially a big challenge.
But, as Po Tu said, he had since found being different had proved to be a strength.
“I know I am different but I’m glad I’m not the same,” he writes in Our World of Colour.
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