Community Member, Refugee Background, Northcote, Australia
I am familiar with the challenges faced by people from refugee and asylum seeking backgrounds because I share their experiences.
The Ava Iranian Women’s Choir was established in response to my connection with Iranian women who were disconnected and filled with despair. Ava was funded to establish Woven, a tapestry weaving project, to provide space for women to express their feelings sadness, anger and hope and show the world their silent story and unique gifts.
Five tapestry groups have run. Women from different backgrounds (Iranian, Eritrean, Somali, Congolese, Indian, Turkish, Syrian, Iraqi, and Nepalese) and visas meet. I set clear ground rules to support safety- no talking about politics or religion, or which visa they have- to help everyone feel equal. I move the looms around so women mix. The women start with self-reflection and then weave these memories into a tapestry.
The group incorporates sessions on gambling, parenting, Australian tapestry, health and wellbeing, and a visit to the police academy. Because of their past experiences the women were isolated, fearful and afraid of connections. It was hard for them to make friends. They didn’t understand they have freedom in Australia and that there are other ways to live. Some women did not want members of their own communities to know that they were mixing with members from other communities. Time and money are challenges!
More than the songs sung and the woven memories, the women learnt to trust others, make friends, and that they matter. The environment was of love, and we experienced unity and peace. There was joy and women started singing their own songs while weaving. Some Ava members are now assistants to the tapestry teachers. It’s really important to support bicultural workers walk
alongside as we have first-hand experience.