A Place we've never been

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It's World Refugee Day


Saly children circa 1980

In 1979, I could see a broken land.

It was filled with broken people. And death pervaded all our senses. My family had just survived war, starvation, torture, execution and disease. We were the little people. Being destroyed by the big people. One fourth of Cambodia's population had perished during the previous three years. For the ones that survived. We were maimed, broken and traumatised.

What stood before my family at this moment, was darkness. The kind that makes you wish you could take your leave. Meet your maker.

Do you know what it's like to have death pursue you? Not waiting for you at the end of your life. But chasing you.

We forged our way, for three days and three nights towards the borders of Thailand. Children. Not a single soldier saw us. And in the most land mined infested area in the world. We did not step on one. 

People like to tell me. We were lucky. That it was a miracle we survived. But in my mind, I saw it this way.

I saw little acts of kindness, in the darkness. From people everywhere. Soldiers allowing my mother more food. My sisters. In their early teens taking turns to carry me. Doctors and nurses. Rushing to our aid. Where did they come from? Volunteers, calling all over the world. To find a place for us. Because we were displaced. Australians. Agreeing to sponsor us. Faceless children they had never met.

Can you guess why freedom is one of our core values? Or beauty in the smallest things? And happiness. 

Today is World Refugee Day. 

'Eighty six percent of the world’s refugees live in the developing world. Most of these countries have kept their doors open to people in search of safety. And have shown a generosity that is well beyond their means’.

Australia is the only country in the world to detain children as it’s first option. Currently 231 children are detained. One child has been in detention for almost 5 years. This is disgusting. 

I have refrained from talking publicly about my experience. Trauma can be a crippling thing. But what good would silence do. Our combined small acts of kindness can move mountains. And more. It’s how the little people have always survived. If you wish to learn more and find out ways on how you can help, you can start by visiting The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre

No-one knows what exactly the future will look like. But I know this. Even in darkness, it can hold beauty in the smallest things. It can hold freedom. It can hold kindness. And, it will hold a place we’ve never been.


Sources provided on request.

cambodia Khmer rouge refugee survival sustainable fashion

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