WITH news from their homeland of a cholera outbreak, exacerbated by fierce fighting, not far from their thoughts, a group of Congolese refugees journeyed out of Sydney on a friendship field trip.
Local families were asked to host them for a night and I was more than happy to oblige. The Rotary field trip was all about giving the Sydney-based refugees a taste of rural life and their busy schedule involved a tour of Wingham Museum and a trip to the beach.
Coordinator of the trip, Lucy Hobgood-Brown from Hunters Hill Rotary in Sydney, sent an email to all host families in the lead up to the visit, warning us of the recent problems but also explaining it was indicative of the ongoing situation in the troubled nation.
“Please be aware that the area of Congo that many are from, is under siege at the moment and there are protests taking place all over the Congo. This is no doubt traumatising for those with family and friends there,” she wrote.
The fighting is dangerously undermining efforts to combat a cholera outbreak there, with some 15,000 new cases in the eastern region of the country over recent months. But, as Ms Hobgood-Brown pointed out, it’s not an unusual situation.
“Since independence from Belgium in 1960 extreme political, social and economical instability has been dominant. Most of the visitors in our group have lived in refugee camps for many years. This has resulted in low literacy as well as trauma. All are in Australia on humanitarian visas.”
In an interesting twist, many who participated in the friendship field trip were from Africa’s Great Lakes Region. The region includes Lake Victoria, the second largest fresh water lake in the world in terms of surface area; and Lake Tanganyika, the world’s second largest in volume as well as the second deepest.
Theophile Elongo, the man who stayed with us, is the president of the Great Lakes Agency for Peace and Development (GLAPD). He has been living in Sydney with his wife and six children on a humanitarian visa and is a prominent figure within Sydney’s Congolese community.
He is just like any other father. He simply wants the best for his family but in his case it meant fleeing his war-torn homeland many years ago.
His work with the GLAPD first brought him to the area as part of Refugee Week but he was keen to bring others back to the region to experience the Australian way of life away from the city. Following the field trip two members of the group are now considering a move to the area.