After the 10am Mass at St Mary Magdalene Rose Bay, we held a concert to raise money for the Asylum Seekers Centre in Sydney. Young singers Jonathon Chan and Harry Collins gave wonderful performances. During the concert, Antoinette Uwera told us about her experiences and the help she received from the Asylum Seekers Centre. I am sure you will be inspired by her courage and determination. John Menadue
The following is her story:
Good morning everyone.
My name is Antoinette. It is my pleasure to be with you today and I would like to tell you my story.
I arrived in Australia in May 2008 from Rwanda. I had to spend the first night in the train station and in the morning it was very cold. I didn’t have any warm clothes with me – because in my country we don’t have the cold weather.
People were walking past me but one man came to me and he asked if there was anything he could help me with. I said I am looking for some help, to find someone to show me where refugees go. And he took me to the Asylum Seekers Centre.
It was still very early and the Centre had not opened but finally the staff arrived. They asked me if I wanted to have a shower. And then they gave me a hot breakfast. After that, they asked me if I wanted to sleep, because I looked very tired. So I slept for two hours.
Then a caseworker asked me to tell her a bit of my story so I told her how I came here. As I couldn’t sleep at the Centre and needed somewhere to stay urgently, she organised for me to stay at a backpacker hostel for 5 days and then to move into a boarding house in Randwick.
Every day I used to go to the Centre to have my breakfast, a hot lunch and for English lessons. Everything was totally new to me but the people were so friendly and it helped me feel connected again.
They also organised for me to see a lawyer for free immigration help, because I had no money. And the nurse made appointments for me to have a full check-up and they gave me a pair of glasses.
One day the Centre even took us to Cockatoo Island where we made a picnic, which was a lot of fun and I met many other asylum seekers.
A friend helped me with my resume and organised for me to go for an interview. But the manager said she was looking for marketing people and that I’m not good for marketing because of my English. But she said she wanted to help me. When I left her office and was on the bus going to my boarding place, she called me and told me that I can come to work the next day.
She created a job for me. That was in November 2008 and I am still in that job today. I am very grateful to her. It was so important for me to have a job so that I could start my new life.
Before I got the job I was on CentreLink support for only a few months – but I felt like a burden on society. As soon as I got the job I felt like I had become a productive member of the Australian community.
I was proud to be independent again.
In that same month, November 2008, the Jesuit Refugee Service were hosting a Melbourne Cup Lunch. Their guest speaker pulled out at the last minute and they asked me if I would be prepared to take her place and tell my story.
I told the guests that I felt safe to be in Australia, but I had lost everything – my 3 sons, my husband, my parents and my siblings. Everyone. I hadn’t heard from my boys in 3 years and I thought that they were dead. I had been praying for them every day.
My speech was placed on a website and within a week a lawyer in France, who had been acting on behalf of three young asylum seekers from Rwanda, came across the article and my picture. He contacted me and asked me the names of my boys.
He then passed the phone to my sons!
I could finally know that my boys were alive. I had light in my life again, after thinking they were dead for 3 years. They had also thought that I was dead. I could smile again because I knew they were alive.
My boys had escaped from Rwanda to Mayotte Island, a French territory, and eventually made their way to France together where they are now working and studying. My firstborn has just finished doing his Masters in IT, the second is studying his Masters in IT and the third is doing social work. They’re working very hard to pay their bills, they study very hard and they don’t have time to cook or to eat healthy. As soon as I was able to visit them, I had to cook a lot and wash their clothes. I worry because they don’t eat enough vegetables. But I am just so happy my boys are alive and doing well.
I want to thank the Asylum Seekers Centre for helping me build a new life.
All I am now is because of them.
They were the first people who helped me in Australia. They helped me get my Protection Visa, they found me somewhere to sleep, they helped me with my health needs and they helped me improve my English. I owe them so much. And even today I still miss the wonderful people who work there.
And it is also because of people like you.
I would like to thank you for coming today – by supporting the Centre, you are making a real difference to our lives.
I have a lot of good friends here in Australia, and a lovely boyfriend. We are getting married in February and my sons are coming out for the wedding!
I go to the beach, swimming, art classes, singing. I want to learn to surf. Because being Australian means surfing, so I’m working hard to do that.
Australia is my new home now and I am so grateful to the Australian people. They have good hearts, and are very generous and kind. I can see my future bright because of the friendship and the hospitality given by people like you.
I feel at home here. And I am now an Australian citizen.
I’m very thankful.
Antoinette Uwera. (quote ends)
At the conclusion of the Concert, Monsignor Tony Doherty spoke of the early ethos of Australia – giving people a second chance. He said that despite the present political environment, there were many examples of support by the community and response by people who responded marvellously to a second chance. Over several months, the St Mary Magdalene Parish has raised over $100,000 for the Centre. The workload is increasing dramatically. If anyone would like to offer assistance, it would be gratefully received. The Asylum Seekers Centre can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. The website is www.asylumseekerscentre.org.au.
John Menadue Patron Asylum Seekers Centre