For World Refugee Day on Sunday 20 June, 2021, the International Rescue Committee highlights the courage of refugees in a series of beautiful and intimate videos that provide first-person accounts of refugee experiences.
8-year-old Kamil’s powerful poem about the discrimination he faced as a refugee and person of colour is brought to life:
Diala Brisly is a gifted illustrator who fled Syria in 2013, to eventually resettle in France:
Christine Shevchenko fled Ukraine at the age of 6 and is now a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre:
Indeed there is courage in all these stories; The courage of their families to give up everything they had and knew in pursuit of safety and a better life, the courage to speak out in the face of fear and reprisal, even the courage to simply be themselves when being themselves would surely be rejected.
These stories remind me of my own parents’ courage as they boarded that boat in 1976, with me as a 3 year old gripping my mother’s neck, a suitcase full of clothes, and any money we had exchanged for jewelry and sewn into the lining of the coats they wouldn’t take off. As the Vietnam war neared its end, they, like tens of thousands of other South Vietnamese citizens, fled for their lives and to whoever would take them.
Their courage continued in Australia as they sought to rebuild their lives. Without speaking English, they stayed with their own kind and kept within the industrious if insular Vietnamese community that centred around the Richmond Commission Flats. Unable to access broader Australian society and fearful of all the systems and processes they could not understand, this community often created their own systems to survive. Restaurants in living rooms, shops in cars, even lending arrangements to avoid approaching banks with their foreign paperwork. My father and his friends had an arrangement whereby they pooled part of their money, then gathered in a rotation of homes, to sit on the floor in a circle with beer and pickled snacks, to debate the latest request for a loan from one of its members. The successful applicant would get their money from the group and pay it back in monthly installments, with interest.
I often recount to my now teenage son, of my own courage as a 5-year-old, walking myself to school and back because my parents’ shifts at the car and chocolate factories began at 6 am. In truth, it was less courageous and more of an adventure, and something that just had to be done because we had no other option. However, I would walk particularly slowly past our neighbour’s house, dragging my feet as I peered into her kitchen window in the hope that she’d spot me and offer to drive me to school. Often she did and I’d gleefully jump in the passenger seat, beside the Australian lady with the big smile. And then I think about her courage, to befriend a family so remarkably different to her own in the late 70s.
But perhaps that’s kindness? After all, kindness is just as powerful as courage.
Huey Nhan-O’Reilly is Head of Production at Fat Beehive and a recent appointee to the UK Board of the International Rescue Committee. The IRC is an international NGO that responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Huey’s participation on the UK Board is made possible through Fat Beehive’s volunteering scheme. All staff at Fat Beehive have volunteering days built into their employment packages and are encouraged to use these to help charities and causes of their choice.