by Guy Power
Over the weekend 2nd-4th February, the Blue Mountains community, through BMRSG (Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group), hosted a group of refugee women from Sydney. The purpose of the three-day event was cultural exchange. The idea behind the event is that refugees who have little means and opportunity to travel and meet Australians in regional areas can meet Australian families and share their stories and culture. It shows them country NSW.
The 20 women involved in the Blue Mountains event live now in Sydney, but came to Australia from lands such as Iraq, Ukraine, Syria, Egypt, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Zimbabwe, and Nigeria. The cultural exchange is an experience that helps the women, who are often socially isolated, to learn new aspects of life here, stay in a local’s home and meet other women in similar situations.
Over the three days, the group were welcomed by Indigenous elder Aunty Carol Cooper, visited the Everglades for morning tea and a walk in the spectacular gardens there, then gathered for a communal lunch in a beautiful Blue Mountains home garden. Festivities on Saturday night included a multicultural feast prepared by the visiting women, followed by music and dance performances from their homelands. On Sunday the group finished their visit with a cruise to the Nepean Gorge on the Nepean Belle.
During the weekend they shared time with their individual host families and were shown that family’s personal slice of Blue Mountains life. The women and host families talked of their lives, shared stories and food together. They learnt about local herbs and plants and relaxed with their hosts and others in the group.
These were perhaps to be expected, but another bridge between cultures, perhaps less expected, was a curiosity and interest around the plants local families had in their gardens – vegetables, fruit, herbs, flowers and trees. Some were recognised, others completely new. What were their names, what are they used for? A lot of information was exchanged, and a lot of cuttings taken.
The Cultural Exchange Program is an initiative of the African Women’s Support Group (AWSG) initially run by volunteers. In 2023 STARTTS (Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors) obtained Federal Government funding to run the program in conjunction with the AWSG. BMRSG were the local representatives on this occasion.
Photos; thanks to Eunice Goodberg and Guy Power