Sydney, 14 January, 2018 – Junghee lives in central Sydney with her dog Boo, and volunteers as an English teacher at Arrupe Place, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) centre in Parramatta. Parramatta is 23 kilometres away from central Sydney, but it can often take an hour or even more to drive between the two cities during peak traffic times.
Junghee teaches in Parramatta once a week, and she speaks of this as “a very, very small commitment”. She is part of a JRS programme that helps asylum seeker women improve their English conversational skills.
While it is true that improving their language skills helps these women better negotiate the complexities of their new Australian home, the presence and accompaniment provided by someone like Junghee goes beyond just improving skills.
JRS in Australia supports principally asylum seekers who have arrived there by boat, and who are subject to extremely harsh restrictions placed on them by a government that regards all asylum seekers arriving by boat as “illegal arrivals”. These asylum seekers are routinely demonised by the government and by popular media.
Against that backdrop of rejection and refusal, Junghee provides an alternative: “The first thing you do is to make them feel welcome, and then things happen from there. When they feel welcome…it brings out the potential in people.” When she sees an asylum seeker, Junghee does not see an “illegal arrival”, but a person with dreams, hope, and potential.
To those who feel nervous or hesitant about volunteering to help a refugee, Junghee says, in that quintessential Australian phrase, “Give it a go.” #Do1Thing