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Child asylum seeker finds holiday heaven away from Nauru ‘hell’

art with child refugees

Special encounter: Two children receiving support from the Romero Centre in Brisbane enjoyed a lesson in art at Lourdes Hill College’s first refugee holiday program, led by Year 10 student Sophie Nakamura and Year 12 student Sophia Tieken. Photo: Emilie Ng

“IT was like you’re living in hell.”

This is how a chatty 11-year-old Iranian asylum seeker described the five years she spent in detention on Nauru.

“Because it’s really hard,” Esta* said.

“After 7pm you can’t go out because it’s not safe – they might hide in the bush and attack you.”

Esta was five when she and her family fled their home country, Iran, before ending up on Nauru for five years between 2013 and 2017.

Since December 24, 2017, Esta, her mother and another sister have been living temporarily in Brisbane on a bridging visa for medical reasons.

For the first time in her life, she has an opportunity to go to school in a safe environment.

“I love it here,” Esta said about her first seven months in Australia.

“I finally go to a good school and I’m safe.”

Even the holidays hasn’t stopped Esta’s thirst for learning.

She spent two days of her school holidays at Lourdes Hill College, Hawthorne, for the Brisbane school’s first holiday program for child refugees.

Created by Lourdes Hill College religion teacher Steven Jorgensen, the Hospitality Outreach Program offered a mix of educational and fun activities to engage refugee children during the school holidays.

The program was supported by the Romero Centre, a Catholic ministry that supports asylum seekers in Brisbane, like Esta and her family.

The centre assists 800 people from 282 refugee families, 100 of which have been cut off from government aid.

Some of these families attended the inaugural holiday program at Lourdes Hill College.

Mr Jorgensen said the program was inspired by the Friday Night School, a ministry of the Parish of St Ignatius and St James, Richmond, under the care of the Jesuits.

He visited the parish earlier this year to research how his school community could support refugees on a pragmatic level.

“Two hundred and fifty refugee students go there every Friday night and it’s run with precision,” Mr Jorgensen said.

“They have about 10 schools who bring their students and volunteer for about an hour.

“It was inspirational.”

Last week was Mr Jorgensen’s attempt at replicating the program in Richmond for refugees living in Brisbane.

“This holiday is our first and it’s just an experiment,” Mr Jorgensen said.

“I had 11 teachers volunteering and 40 of our students volunteered to come in during the holidays, to partner up with our guests.”

The students also raised $400 to enable the refugee children to travel from their home to the Romero Centre on July 3 and 10.

Lourdes Hill College Year 10 student Sophie Nakamura volunteered on both days of the program.

“It felt like we weren’t doing it for them,” Miss Nakamura said.

“It wasn’t about, ‘I’m helping you’, we were becoming genuine friends.

“As research and everything says, it’s about interaction and having that emotional connection.

“Statistics won’t help as much as having a genuine connection will.”

*Name has been changed to protect the identity of the child

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