Fun at Featherdale

Asylum seekers in community detention play football on an outing to Featherdale (Photo: JRS)

Asylum seekers in community detention play football on an outing to Featherdale (Photo: JRS)

 With the help of a dedicated army of volunteers, the team has organised art classes and exhibitions, English and music classes, soccer games, yoga, cleaning bees, billiards matches and celebrations of community and religious feast days.

In late September 26 people, including four families, went to Featherdale Wildlife Park in Doonside. Nothing remarkable about that, you might think. This, however, was a visit by very remarkable people.\

The families were clients of the Residence Determination Project of Jesuit Refugee Service. They are asylum seekers from all over the world who are currently living in and around Sydney in community detention. Since they may not work or study for a qualification, an important part of what JRS’ team does is providing opportunities for engagement, a social life and building their skills and capacities during the limbo of detention.

With the help of a dedicated army of volunteers, the team has organised art classes and exhibitions, English and music classes, soccer games, yoga, cleaning bees, billiards matches and celebrations of community and religious feast days.

In addition, the regular weekly program of activities which we run at our office in West Ryde features beading (including a recent exhibition), quilting and computer classes as well as activities for babies and toddlers. The talents which it has unlocked have been truly breathtaking, with observers amazed by the skills which our clients bring and the generosity with which they do so.

As a result, when a kind donation from a Catholic school in Meadowbank gave us the opportunity to give the clients a trip to the zoo, we took it with both hands.

Here, they not only got the chance to socialise with each other and with our indefatigable volunteers, but also to explore a little slice of outdoor Australia. The families were particularly impressed with the array of local wildlife (excluding the enthusiastic parties of school children) to be seen roaming around.

The critters on display ranged from bats to bilbies and pelicans to peacocks. Our youngest client was most disappointed that the kangaroo did not want to share his tail with him – but Joey was apparently unfazed. After cavorting with koalas, discovering dingos, seeking out snakes, camping around a crocodile and even selecting souvenirs, the weary team retired for lunch at a neighbouring park. We dined on chicken, rolls, salad and samosas (generously contributed by one of the families).

Someone even managed to unearth an abandoned football from beneath an equally ancient tree and a soccer game was soon in full swing.

After the meal and festivities were over, the happy explorers returned, elated but tired, to their homes.

By Justin Glyn SJ

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