A loving family tale of welcome and compassion.
As the world grappled with the confronting image of a three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a beach, a Facebook campaign by prominent Icelandic author Bryndis Bjorgvinsdottir gathered steam.
In just 24 hours, thousands of Icelanders offered up their homes to people seeking asylum. Come and stay in my spare room, they said. I will house, feed and clothe you.
“They are our future spouses, best friends, the next soulmate, a drummer for our children’s band, the next colleague, Miss Iceland in 2022, the carpenter who finally finishes the bathroom, the cook in the cafeteria, a fireman and television host,” Bryndis powerfully wrote in her plea to her community to do something, anything, to help these helpless people.
As I read the messages from mothers offering to house orphaned children to fathers willing to provide for whole families under their roof until they could find their own way, it dawned on me that what the people of Iceland are offering to do is foster families.
It’s possibly the most heart-warming act of humanity I have seen. The government of this small island nation of just 300,000 people promised to take in 50 asylum seekers, but the people of Iceland are pushing for 5,000.
If they succeed, they might just change the world.
Proudly, I have family members who helped to develop The Refugee Mentoring Program with Rotary. In a similar fashion to what Iceland is proposing, they met refugees at the Brisbane airport and assisted them in establishing lives, jobs and new homes in this country.
This group of amazing humans furnished homes and provided hot meals and cupboards full of food. They taught refugees our culture, and the rights and wrongs of our laws. More importantly, they were friends.
My aunt and uncle personally took on an Afghani family of three in 2005. By 13, Sarah (not her real name) had been bought and sold and was a mother of two daughters.
Because she did not produce sons, the man who bought her abandoned her. She then made a perilous escape to Iran with her babies, and survived as best she could until Iran ordered all the Afghani refugees out. She was eventually given asylum
in Australia when she was 29.
As an act of thanks, they took on my uncle’s last name, associating their new happy life with the love they received from an Australian family. They are invited to all our family events, because they are family. The girls are now finishing university — one is studying Biomedical Science, the other is completing degrees in Aerospace Engineering, Architecture and Interior Design.
Yes, three degrees. At once!
These magnificent brains are here, ready to give back all they can to this country, having been given a second chance.
They think they are the lucky ones. I think we are.