20 July 2017

Welcome Dinners connect newly arrived people including migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and international students with established Australians over a potluck-style meal in a family home or a trusted community space.

 Life Without Barriers and Joining the Dots hosted a special Community Welcome Dinner to launch the Welcome Dinner Project in the Greater City of Dandenong on Fri 14th July. 

At the Dandenong Centre over 70 people attended – people seeking asylum from Rohingyan, Tamil, Hazara communities. Volunteers and facilitators gathered from a cross section of the community to bring the event together and celebrate the beautiful food from different cultures and cuisines – Mauritian soup, chicken biryani, moussaka, curries of every colour and spice, egg cups, chocolate cake, Madeira cake and the list goes on.

The positive energy and buzz in the room was catching and people wrote down one word about how they felt on the night - “Happy,” “Hopeful,” “Nostalgic,” “United,” “Oneness,” & “Joyful” were some of the words that came up the most.

In the majority, people seeking asylum risk their lives to escape from their homeland and the families they cherish to take a precarious journey on an often leaky and ramshackle boat packed with people fleeing for their freedom. People leave because they are seeking political and /or religious freedom and a “better life for their children.” People have always sought asylum and the countries they flee from depends on the situation in their country. Currently, at Life Without Barriers, the people who we assist the most are Hazaragi of Afghanistan, the Tamils of Sri Lanka, the Rohingyans of Burma and the Iranians from Iran.

Food is the great “connector.” On the night, people proudly bought their favourite or a traditional dish to celebrate their culture and share, “pot luck style”, with the other people at their table. They were all asked to tell a short story about their dish as a way of introducing themselves to their table mates and new friends. The Community Welcome Dinner provides an opportunity for people from all walks of life and different cultures to share great food, make new connections in their own neighbourhood and to celebrate inclusiveness, respect and a sense of belonging.

People seeking asylum often “transition” come from a country such as Malaysia or Indonesia. From there they can wait for many, many years in the hope that they will be assessed as ‘asylum seekers’ and re-settled to a host country such as Australia. This can become what seems like an eternal wait, often given very little to survive on, in terms of food and shelter. This sense of desperation can often force people to make the decision to once again risk their lives and embark on an ‘unseaworthy boat’ to Australia.

 “Tonight I feel just like I am with my family.”

If people are granted visas to remain in Australia, the thing they prize the most is “a sense of belonging.” As they can often feel socially-isolated  and may have suffered great emotional, financial, physical upheaval, the feeling of ‘social connectedness’ that sharing simple meal together can help people to feel that they are not alone and experience a greater sense of community.

Since the official launch of The Welcome Dinner Project by Joining the Dots in March 2013, over 200 Welcome Dinners have been held in homes and community spaces across Australia. There are many challenges in our society for newly arrived people and the popularity of this project demonstrates that there is endless goodwill out there to create a different kind of story – one that represents the true “fair go” Australia!

The final word should go to our special guests for the night:  “Tonight I feel just like I am with my family.”

And  “After three years in detention centre so beautiful to hear the sounds of children laughing and playing.”

Please look at the Welcome Dinner website if you would like further information and quotes from past attendees.

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