Since 2007 "Helping Hands International Australia" (HHIA) has found new life supporting refugees integrating into Australian society. Originally formed in 2001 by Ros and Ken Myers, HHIA's primary focus was to provide humanitarian aid and disaster relief within Australia and the Pacific Islands (i.e. Solomons). As Christians they birthed HHIA from a strong sense of God's leading and purpose in helping those in crisis and the under privileged. Ros and Ken held a firm conviction that this ministry could be entrusted with the Lord.
However in 2004, a long standing arrangement with a Queensland hospital for donating medical equipment, and the landlord of their primary warehouse were cancelled. HHIA's future was looking uncertain, so with some confusion and uncertainty, Ros and Ken finally decided to wrap up operations in 2005 sending the last of their medical equipment to the Solomon Islands.
The following two years HHIA sat pretty much in a state of limbo despite Ros and Ken's best efforts to resurrect the aid work in a variety of forms. In light of their previous convictions, they couldn't understand why the Lord was seemingly drawing the curtain on their ministry for which they had such a passion.
As they were struggling with these thoughts, the school in Brisbane where Ken was working (and still works today) experienced an influx of student refugees and welcomed the assistance of voluntary staff to help with their ESL (English as a Second Language) program. Ros Meyers volunteered and was soon helping kids displaced from completely foreign cultures come to terms with western life, English and the horrors of high school arithmetic.
She quickly befriended many of the students and was shocked to discover the savage nature of their former lives. Stories of sexual abuse and violence faced by fleeing refugees beggar belief when reading about them, but to hear first hand accounts of the horrible mistreatment and social conditions fuelling the need to leave one's home country is quite confronting.
Both Ros and Ken gained considerable insight into the mountain these kids have to climb emotionally let alone academically and socially. This paired with an unstable, inconsistent history of education and long periods of displacement, it is little wonder that these kids need all the help they can get just to get their heads around our language, let alone hope to pass an Australian standard high school maths exam and grapple with issues of social inclusion.
Others became aware of Ros and Ken's involvement with the children, and in November 2007, they received a call from a local church seeking their assistance in helping a refugee Sri Lankan family's social integration. For the next 18 months, Ros and Ken helped the best way they could, befriending the family, and helping them face day to day life in Australia. With the help they offered to the first family, other refugees became aware of Ros and Ken and contacted them for help as well.
As the number of families and children needing help increased, under the name of HHIA, Ros and Ken started to form a number of mentoring and support programs. By simply making themselves available, Ros and Ken coach families through a variety of day to day issues from knowing how to book a doctor's appointment, through to finding work without recognised qualifications. For most the latter is quite a challenge, and at times ethically confronting, as the only work one poor refugee; a Hindu man, could find was in an abattoir!
Concerning many of Australians current attitudes toward immigration and policy governing asylum seekers, after listening to how asylum seekers lived in their countries of origin, and the nature of their oppressions, Ros believes policy makers cannot afford to be dogmatic about how refugees come to Australia as application processes followed are less than ideal.
In some instances, alerting authorities of your family's intent to leave their native country invites persecution and further hardship. Ken and Ros have heard many stories of false imprisonment and physical recriminations under such situations, and so to expect all asylum seekers to follow official process is completely unreasonable.
To date, some of the support programs HHIA offer include - In Home Support, Homework Club, and Birthing Support. Part of the vision for HHIA includes the construction of a friendship centre for refugees between Brisbane and Logan, however apart from the occasional government grant, most of this work is funded by Ken and Ros.
Thanks to a handful of helpful volunteers, the number of refugees benefitting from this program has increased, however, more are desperately needed. If you have a heart for refugees and would love to play a vital part in a family's flee from tyranny and establishment in Australia, please contact Ros or Ken Myers: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Ben Kitzelman has spent the last 4 years travelling between Australia and Zambia, serving for one as a missionary, and is now an IT professional in Melbourne.