When I spoke to Khaled about why he had contacted the Campaign for Australian Aid the conversation reminded me why I first began campaigning for the humanising of refugees and for the restoration of Australia’s rapidly eroding national character.
Firstly, Khaled was full of gratitude. He was thankful for the recent announcement of 12 000 additional places for people fleeing war and persecution in Syria. He was grateful for the additional millions promised in aid. Overwhelmingly, he expressed his huge appreciation for the way our nation had given him a safe, peaceful place to work and live, and the opportunities available to his children.
He was describing a compassionate, welcoming and generous nation, an Australia actively looking for opportunities to help those in need, a people that could see the shared humanity with others – both those who had already fled in our direction from violence and fear, and those currently seeking to escape the horrors unfolding in his homeland.
Khaled had caught a glimpse of an Australia that’s been absent in the political and public conversations concerning both our response to asylum seekers and refugees and our commitment to providing Australian aid to developing nations and the world’s poor.
In his own life, he’d experienced what’s possible when fear is replaced with welcome and in the announcement regarding Syria he’d witnessed a small fraction of the opportunities that arise when Australians collectively remind their leaders that, at our best, we’re decent, generous people with an empathy that can be readily mobilised towards meaningful, practical action.
I could hear in his voice, in the questions he was asking, in his requests for the Government to ensure that Aid reached the people in most need – where safe hospitals, schools and the basics of survival are desperately needed – in the way that he reminded me of just how wealthy Australia is; that Khaled had seen more than a number of refugee spaces and a donation of money – he had seen what’s possible when a nation is set free from fear of the other, when we lift our eyes from self-interest and greed and when, for a moment, we remember that generosity doesn’t put our standard of living at risk.
Khaled was full of the kind of hope that arises when people, even for a moment, realise that life isn’t about hoarding your possessions and privilege but that perhaps they exist for the sake of others – and that meaning, fulfilment and even joy can come from sharing them freely.
That’s what the Campaign for Australian Aid is all about. While the dollars are important, that’s only because the decisions our leaders make about money speaks directly to the kind of people we are and the kind of society we’re building. Are we the kind of people who’d prefer to spend our money detaining and degrading the world’s most vulnerable people when they come to us for protection? Or are Australians the kind of people for whom generosity, compassion and empathy are second-nature?
Khaled was full of hope that we are the latter. If you, like me, share that hope please join the Campaign for Australian Aid.