Yass Rural Australians for Refugees’ highly anticipated ‘Stories from Afghanistan’ talk at the Yass Community Baptist Church over the weekend was a great success with about 60 people in attendance.

They hailed from Yass Valley, Murrumbateman, Canberra, Queanbeyan and Stockinbin- gal, to hear journalist and political commentator Paul Bongiorno and author, photographer and community worker Mark Isaacs share their insights about the refugee experience in Afghanistan.

YRAR’s Sarah Johnston said the theme of Refugee Week, ‘Healing’, was eloquently addressed by Ngunnawal Elder Aunty Glenda Merritt. She spoke about the sympathy that First Nations people have for refugees because they understand what it is to be persecuted unjustly because of beliefs, the colour of your skin or language.

Indigenous people can sympathise with those who have been torn unwillingly from their home and their families. Aunty Glenda said that like First Nations People, refugees should be admired for their courage, determination, will power, and hunger for life.

She told her personal story of fostering a young Afghani refugee from Woomera who lived with her family in Canberra for three years. He worked hard at school and went on to become a successful accountant and later a tradesman, contributing to the community with compassion, generosity, and love.

Mark Isaacs notably spoke about the young people he had met in Afghanistan who were working for peace in the Kabul Peace House.

The group was founded by a doctor, Insaan, who was working in remote villages trying to care for the health of families throughout continual war and upheaval.

Through the frustration of trying to heal people living with multiple and ongoing traumas, Insaan recognised that medical intervention was only a small part of what was required for real healing – peace in Afghanistan.

“Insaan theorised that in order to achieve peace in Afghanistan, the Afghan people had to develop nonviolent relationships and practices: to listen, to relate, to communicate, to empathise and to compromise,” Mark said. “To help Afghans learn to live with each other again.”

“If violence was the disease, love was the cure.”

Mark’s book, ‘The Kabul Peace House’, outlines the remarkable projects undertaken by the community founded by Insaan including a Peace Park, permaculture gardens, a school and a sewing industry.

It describes the life, hope, courage, and vision of the young people who participated in the community.

Sadly, Sarah said with the fall of Kabul last year those activities have been disbanded and most members have fled for their lives with some finding refuge in Portugal, Germany and Brazil.

Paul Bongiorno employed his characteristic wisdom, empathy and humour to facilitate the event. He said he was very hopeful that the “dark angels” that have dominated refugee policy for over a decade seem to be receding and there is a lot to be hopeful about looking forward.

The return to Biloela of the Murrugappan family was indicative of this shift in attitude he added.

The Good Vibes choir affirmed the theme of Healing through their carefully chosen uplifting and hope-laden songs, adding a joyous highlight to the afternoon.

Sarah said YRAR was very grateful to Yass Community Baptist Church for their hospitality and the use of their wonderful venue.

They also thanked the Rose family, Lyndall Eeg and all the YRAR members and friends for a fabulous afternoon tea.

YRAR was also touched by the generosity of businesses that supported the event. Including Nic Carmody from Yass and District Printers, Anthony O’Connell from Jim’s Carpet Cleaning, Margot Shannon from Merchant Campbell, and Jo Hicks from The Yass Bookstore.

There is still time to contribute to the support of refugees by purchasing raffle tickets for a bespoke sampler crafted and donated by Annabelle O’Connell and other fabulous prizes from their supporters.