I’ve learned some pretty significant things about my refugee friends in the last week, which have made me both cry and rejoice.

We were visiting the Sri Lankan refugees here in the Port Augusta detention centre and the conversation turned to the big storm in the Americas. I pitched in: where my brother and his wife live, their streets were flooded and the power was out. The refugees agreed it was pretty bad. But then someone mentioned, “Of course, you’ve had your own big storm – the tsunami in 2004″. The refugees agreed, but unlike me, didn’t venture their own personal stories. It was only when I dug deeper that I found out… I asked one man how the tsunami had affected his area. He had been a fisherman, living with his family in a small coastal village, I knew. Well, it turned out that in 2004, the big wave completely submerged it. He demonstrated with his arms how it came upon them. He had grabbed his children and ran for higher ground. They were lucky and sheltered in a school, but his father and about 5 or 6 relatives he named, died.  His house and fishing boats were destroyed. Sometime after that his son died too. His surviving family  were living with disability from the fighting between the Tamil Tigers and government in his village. He escaped soon after that, but has been away from his family for 7 years. He now rings them every day and did the maths showing me how he could stretch his stipend to get enough phone card credit to do this. 42,000 Sri Lankans died because of that tsunami. Wow – talk about a storm…

More positively, I heard some good news stories from refugees now out of detention for some years. A friend from Afghanistan has a pretty inspiring story. He is a martial artist and I met him when doing the Melbourne circus course in 2006. Lately he has been doing fight scenes for movies and even making his own. But last week I found out that he had WON the gold medal at a World Martial Arts Festival at Kish Island. Another inspiring Iranian refugee now lives in Port Pirie and I saw him yesterday at his café. Well, he too had WON a regional baristas’ competition. He now goes on to train and compete for the international event. What wonderful examples!

There are different ways to measure success. These last two people have become successful in the eyes of the world – and rightly so. Yet I think it is also pretty incredible that the Sri Lankan man, after all that has happened, finds the courage to look each new day in the eye. Despite poor English, he is someone that continues to come out when the others are too depressed. This is success too – to keep hope and strength in the tough times. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who weep now: you shall laugh.” May the day also come to rejoice.

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