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Northside parish welcomes newly arrived Syrian and Iraqi families to dinner

Welcome Dinner project

Dinner crowd: Happy diners at the end of the evening at The Welcome Dinner Project community dinner at SANDBAG in Sandgate. Photos: Libby Blom

GOOD food, good will and a good idea formed the perfect recipe for bringing together a group of families from Iraq and Syria and people from their new communities on Brisbane’s northside.

Those who accepted the invitation to a special night at the SANDBAG (Sandgate and Bracken Ridge Action Group) centre on August 9 provided the food and good will, and the good idea came from The Welcome Dinner Project.

The Welcome Dinner Project connects “newly arrived people with established Australians” over dinner.

Dinners are usually held in private homes for 16 to 30 people but this was Brisbane’s first community Welcome Dinner.

Hosted by The Welcome Dinner Project in partnership with St Patrick’s College, Shorncliffe, SANDBAG and Brisbane City Council, the event attracted more than 100 people including students, staff and parents from St Patrick’s and parishioners from St Joseph’s and St Anthony’s, Bracken Ridge, which has welcomed the newly arrived families.

People from the broader community also attended.

Welcome Dinner Project Queensland co-ordinator Libby Blom said half the guests were newly arrived families and half were from the “established” community.

“It was festive, fun and friendly,” Mrs Blom said. “Even though there was a language barrier it was easily overcome with the assistance of an interpreter and willing guests wanting to connect.

“The food was shared not simply at one table but across the room.”

Bracken Ridge parishioner Kareem Patros, who interpreted on the night, said the night was “very important” for the Iraqi and Syrian families.

“Now they feel like they’re in one family,” he said. “They get friends and they get to be like brothers and sisters here. And they’re very happy, and very excited.”

St Patrick’s College principal Chris Mayes was delighted the college could be involved.

“Probably the most important thing is that as a college community, social justice issues are so important to us … and we think that it’s most important that your words have also got to have actions associated with them,” he said.

“So something like tonight allows us to do that.

“(The boys) hear lots of messages but this allows them to meet some of the families and hear their grief.

“I was having dinner with a family from Mosul and (they have) five or six kids, they had a big house (in Iraq), Dad’s a mechanic, and then (it was) all wiped out.”

Now the family’s trying to start again.

Mr Mayes said the dinner gave him the chance to meet with couple of the boys from the family and now they may be enrolling at St Patrick’s.

He said Bracken Ridge parish priest Fr Gerry Hefferan had contacted him earlier to see if the college was interested in accepting some of the boys from the new families into the college.

“I said we were more than happy (to do so),” Mr Mayes said.

Fr Hefferan also attended the dinner.

Ms Blom said the dinner had achieved its goal of familiarising the people from Iraq and Syria with others in the local community.

“The idea was to have (the dinner) away from the parish so the people could see that the welcome is beyond the parish,” she said.

“It’s al about making sure connections are made that are long-lasting and life-giving.”

The Welcome Dinner Project is planning another community dinner with the St Stephen’s Cathedral parish’s Young Adults Ministry for September.

Other house dinners are coming up in other parts of Brisbane and in Toowoomba.

People can register their details to host or attend a home Welcome Dinner and find out when the next community dinner will be held at the group’s website www.joiningthedots.org or by emailing queensland@joiningthedots.org.

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