Anna Hohenboken and Raeanne Sabira on One Step Walks & MECA

Anna Hohenboken and Raeanne Sabira join me from One Step Walks & MECA to chat about How You Can Support Australian Refugees In Your Life

One Step Walks



Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:00:00]   Now, before we start, I’d like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which I am recording this podcast, the Gadigal people of the Eora nation and recognise their continuing connexion to the land, waters and culture. I pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging. Hello and welcome to Unstress. My name is Dr Ron Ehrlich. Now today’s topic is touching on refugees and refugees. Well, one could argue that if you are not Australian, Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, then a component one part of you at least. And for many, it’s a much bigger component, is an immigrant or a refugee or both. So this is something that, depending on which part of the last 200 years or so your ancestors have arrived in Australia is something that has touched us all. My guests today are Anna Hohenboken from One Step Walks and Raeanne Sabira from MECA. Now One Step Walks began in 2016 as a not for profit organisation to build mutual understanding between locals and people with refugee experience through the simple act of connecting. And boy, have we learnt how important in this last year Connexions are physical connexions and in this case, it’s walking together at the end of the walk, sharing a very casual and simple nosh. We could call it a picnic as well. Now Raeanne is involved with MECA, which is the Mount Druitt Ethnic Communities Agency. MECA is an independent community-based organisation dedicated to informing, linking and empowering people from culturally diverse backgrounds to enhance a culturally rich and diverse Australia. There are many challenges that new migrants and refugees face as they arrive in Australia and language and isolation just to probably the big ones. It was an opportunity for me. I became aware of One Step Walks about two or so years ago. We started in 2019 and had been on several of their walks and it has been a really interesting experience for me and my family who have had the opportunity to connect with refugees in a way that I wouldn’t ordinarily do and realise some of the challenges they face and actually some of the similarities and the differences that do exist. So it’s a wonderful way of connecting. And I’ll have information about that. We talk about that in this podcast. Look, I hope you enjoy this conversation I had with Anna Hohenboken and Raeanne Sabira. Welcome to the show, Anna and Ryan


Anna Hohenboken [00:03:02] HI Ron, thank you for having us


Raeanne Sabira [00:03:03] Hi Ron. Thank you.


Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:03:04] Look, it’s a pleasure. Look, we met a few weeks of about a month or two ago on one of the One Step Walks, walks, and was just it’s such a great initiative. I wondered I will often start with my guest by asking them a little bit what brought them to this point, their own journey. Professionally, personally. I wondered if we you know, if you’d be happy to share. Tell us your own story there and Anna maybe we start with you.


Anna Hohenboken [00:03:28] Yeah, sure. Well, I was travelling along very happily in a fabulous corporate career doing brand management overseas. I kind of got to a stage where I realised, hang on, there’s something missing for me. I wanted something a bit more meaningful. I’ve always been interested in human rights in general. I’ve been an Amnesty International supporter forever. And when it kind of dawned on me that I could make a career in that world, I got very interested. So I retrained. And I’ve since got my Master’s in Human Rights and I’ve now worked in the realm of refugee rights, women’s rights and child rights more specifically and also in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights as well. I was really looking for a community, a grassroots organisation that I could work with, that I could give my heart and soul to and make a real difference on the ground. And I came across One Step Walks. And yeah, the rest, as they say, is history.


Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:04:32] Well, I know that on that last walk I had the pleasure of walking with you Raeanne. And I know you’ve been in Australia longer, but you were there with your sister who had arrived only recently. But I wondered if you might share with us a bit about your own journey and yeah, tell us the story.


Raeanne Sabira [00:04:51] If I start from back home, I studied a Bachelor in Accounting and I was working at the bank because of the war. We moved from Afghanistan to Pakistan two times. Once I moved to Pakistan as a migrant for about three years with my parents, brothers and sisters and went back to Afghanistan in 2000 and 1991. And then the situation wasn’t getting better. And the and that time I got married and I left again with my new family and I had my first child in Afghanistan. And I moved back to Pakistan and I was living there for seven years, which wasn’t really good. I went through a lot the way life took us. It wasn’t easy. I came to Australia in 2002 with my three kids.


Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:05:55] So this was just after the 9/11 thing. And that would have had a very dramatic impact, of course, was the beginning of a very long conflict in in Afghanistan


Raeanne Sabira [00:06:07] in Afghanistan


Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:06:08] and the whole environment at that time. I mean, your moving backwards and forwards, what was life like in Afghanistan for a young woman at that time?


Raeanne Sabira [00:06:18] It wasn’t easy because the situation with political changes, the freedom with woman, it’s got a bit tight and it was hard to live there at the beginning. It wasn’t that hard. We were just wearing a scarf. But later on it was getting what Taliban came. It was got really bad because the girls should be stay at home, don’t go to school and all women stay home after when the Taliban was there on that time, I wasn’t in Afghanistan. At that time, I was in Pakistan, which was much easier for me. But being as a migrant in a different country and living on country, it wasn’t easy. No, twice, twice, twice.


Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:07:08] And coming to Australia and we’re going to talk about MECA and all the challenges of coming to Australia. But I just want to just focus back on you were already in Australia when the troops when the allied forces invaded or went into Afghanistan. You were already in Australia at that point.


Raeanne Sabira [00:07:29] I came to Australia in 2002.


Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:07:32] And did you view that that incursion. You know, the fact that all these allied forces went into Afghanistan, was that a positive thing? Was that a good thing? Did you feel it was going to get rid of the Taliban?


Raeanne Sabira [00:07:45] And some point, I don’t know. I don’t like to go to politics. But anyway, Afghan people from years, years, they don’t want anyone to come to their country and say, oh, we will support you. We want to support you. They want to have their own freedom. But at the moment, it is a fight between tribes and that this all again, it’s this politics that they just fighting between each other as it being being Azara, Pashtun or Tajik, which is really sad.


Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:08:19] Mm hmm. It’s a very volatile country. But now MECA, the you know, we’ve talked a little bit about what Anna has done and we’re going to come back to One Step Walks in a moment. But you’re also involved in MECA. Can you tell us a little bit about MECA and what it’s about? What’s what you’re doing with this organisation?


Raeanne Sabira [00:08:40] MECA, around about 30 years in the Mount Druitt area and we are supporting new arrivals, which is the support, and under five years with our settlement and having some courses, classes for them and make them ready for a citizenship test as well, we just connect them with different organisation and services


Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:09:11] Because when a refugee does arrive in Australia, like what is the typical experience of a refugee, they’ve left their country there on the plane. They land in Australia, they arrive at the airport. What happens to them? Typically at that point,


Raeanne Sabira [00:09:28] It is a bit hard for them because of this new culture, new language, new country, everything is like they are starting from the beginning, leaving everything behind and coming a different country. It is not easy. I know they are coming to be safe and bit in a better place, but it is not easy at the beginning and they are going through a lot of stress and I experienced that and myself, which wasn’t easy. I could speak English, but still, it wasn’t easy for me to manage with everything putting helping people on that stage. It is, actually a blessing. I think that’s why I was thinking when I came, I said, okay, I want to change career. I want to help new arrivals.


Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:10:13] And what are some of those challenges? I mean, when a new when you came to Australia, what are some of the challenges that new migrants, refugees, in fact, face in Australia?


Raeanne Sabira [00:10:23] You know, the big challenge is their language, as I experience as well. I could understand them, but I couldn’t speak the way everyone to speak because it’s a bit different accent and I learn an American way, and it was too hard for me to understand, but some people coming with, you no second language at all, they don’t have English and that is really hard to do for them to manage. And this one put them through a lot of stress. They’re getting anxiety. They’re getting depression, especially women, because they stay home and looking after the kids by their choice. I don’t want to say it is men and men going to start working. And this is make them to learn English because they are out there and they going out with friends. They want to spend time with people, but women get stuck in the house and they think, OK, I want to get ready for for kids to make dinner, make lunch and look after this. All the stuff make woman to get behind and they can’t move that much. And there’s in their society and their social life, which is not easy.


Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:11:37] And I imagine particularly like yourself with a professional career when you started, you’re in the bank, you had an accounting Bachelor of Accounting and you come to Australia. I mean, we’re starting from the very beginning. Yes. That language, I mean, really basic. And I guess also with the parents, with the husbands going off to work learning English and the children going off to school and learning English, very easy for a woman to be left behind.


Raeanne Sabira [00:12:08] Very easy. And I know some ladies here over 20 years and they are not comfortable to talk with people. They think, oh, we can’t speak very well because they lost the the confidence and they have low self-esteem. They think, oh, they can’t speak with them, they speak wrong. And the and not much support there to help them.


Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:12:37] And is the support for One Step Walks and MECA coming from the government, does get any government support?


Raeanne Sabira [00:12:45] No, no. None of profit organisation.


Anna Hohenboken [00:12:49] One Step Walks, we are completely funded by individual donors who generously give as well as grants and trusts and foundations. So we are an independent organisation talking about the sector in general. There is some funding available, but it’s generally for the the more kind of, I suppose we think in in Maslow’s hierarchy, you know, in those core needs at the bottom. So it’s food aid, housing aid, financial assistance, assistance getting jobs. You know, that’s where the a lot of the funding from the government goes and the sector is very stretched. You know, there are a number of migrant resource centres like MECA, around Australia, around Sydney, and they all do amazing jobs. And there’s no such thing as a nine to five when it comes to the people who work there. And Raeanne can attest to that. She probably won’t, but I can on her behalf. And and so what happens is these these really critical wellbeing issues become completely unmet. And we have people who become isolated. And now, you know, we’ve all had a taste of social isolation after the year 2020 and Coronavirus and lockdown’s. It’s so obvious now, I suppose, to a much broader audience just what happens when you do feel that isolation. So the funding that’s received doesn’t doesn’t often go into these channels. And this is this is exactly how One Step Walks came to be, because it was through community consultation that it was identified that the people who are within this community that are most vulnerable, they need help with practising English, but practising English with local speakers. It’s not not people who are learning themselves. That’s also great, but it’s the local speakers and also just an opportunity to get out and to connect and let that, you know, that magical human connexion, which has such incredible healing power again, which we’ve now all experienced, is one thing, meeting on a Zoom and there’s another thing to be in person. And it just makes a profound difference in our experience to people’s wellbeing if they’re facing these issues of isolation, social isolation, to bring them together in a beautiful location with people who are interested and want to get to know them and willing to connect.


Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:15:33] Yeah, no, it it’s very it is a very interesting experience to go for a walk and it’s less confrontational, if you like, and you’re both walking along and just chatting and hearing the stories, and I notice also you guys are doing a corporate there’s a corporate walks programme as well, is that tells us how that’s panning out?


Anna Hohenboken [00:15:54] Oh, well, it was brilliant up until Coronavirus because now. Yeah, but basically this is it’s a really interesting concept that a lot of corporates are looking for opportunities to provide a meaningful experience to their staff. And whether that’s a team building day or just, hey, here’s an opportunity to get involved. But we partner with various corporates. We’ve partnered with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, with Hotels Combined, with ARAP. And we actually put on a walk specifically for an organisation’s team members, their staff. And we partner with a migrant resource centre such as MECA. And we go for a lovely walk in the middle of the week. And the benefit of it is that the cost structure means that the corporate is able to financially back the work. But it’s also the beauty of it is that it’s a two way benefits kind of highway. So it’s not just a it’s not a a charitable act, so to speak. It’s very much, hey, you know, both these two communities coming together and equally learning and growing and gaining value.


Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:17:12] And it’s the one step walk programme cuts across the refugee community in general. It doesn’t just target the I mean, we’ve we’ve come into contact with a lot of Afghanis, a lot of people from Pakistan as well. But it’s it’s across the board.


Anna Hohenboken [00:17:28] Yeah, absolutely. In fact, I was looking at the current statistics. So globally, the refugee statistics, there’s about twenty six point five million refugees globally, well, as of mid 2020. So we’ll see what impact coronaviruses had on that in the coming months when the UNHCR put out their annual report. But of that, we know that 50 per cent are children. And we also know that two thirds of those people come from five countries. Wow. Which is just mind blowing. So talking about this before it’s Afghanistan, Syria, Venezuela, Myanmar and South Sudan. So what we find is that the bulk of, I suppose, refugees that are resettling elsewhere from those countries, but the way that our model works is we partner with the migrant resource centres that are happy to partner with us and just whoever is in need of human connexion, then come along where we’re an open, open door.


Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:18:39] Well, I mean, we just it’s kind of strikes me as an irony, really, in Australia, that we are not more welcoming of refugees than we are at the moment. How are you seeing the the current mood, given that global issue and given what’s happening in the pandemic? Are people closing up, are they opening up? What are you seeing?


Anna Hohenboken [00:19:01] What’s really interesting for for us, when when coronavirus hits and it was all about social isolation and the last thing anyone wanted to do was gather with one hundred people and talk and walk. And we had a really positive engagement. I think that there’s a whole new understanding of social isolation. Yeah. And the impact that has and and also how important, just simple acts can be. I think previously we talk about a walk and talk event. You really had to explain the impact that human connexion can make to well-being. But now everyone kind of gets it intuitively because of their lived experience in 2020. But, yeah, we’re still seeing a really a really strong supporter base. If anything, I think people understand more than previously.


Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:19:58] Yes. Now, we’ve been given a real lesson in what it means to be actually connected. And as you said that initially in your opening remarks, I thought, wow, we’ve all experienced that. The interesting thing, too, I think about Australia is that if you are not of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, we are all refugees or immigrants, you know, I mean, we’ve all had our time. It’s it’s an interesting historical perspective for us to come to, isn’t it? I mean, there’s nobody you would meet your you know, my background, your background, all of our backgrounds. Yeah. Not not indigenous.


Anna Hohenboken [00:20:35] Not five minutes before this call, we were talking exactly that. I think it’s interesting. And that’s something that we’ve started building into our programmes as well, is is acknowledging that and and acknowledging that so many Australians are actually visitors to this land. We’re a country, a land of many nations before colonialisation. And there’s a real opportunity for us to learn from the you know, the traditional owners. There’s a lot to learn. So we’re starting to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups and organisations. We’re about to launch our first reconciliation action plan, which we’re thrilled about, because I think that that’s why it’s such a timely reminder as people come together on this walk, it’s like, oh, yeah, we’re all relatively new to this land.


Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:21:23] What tell us a bit about that reconciliation action plan.


Anna Hohenboken [00:21:27] Yeah, so it’s through Reconciliation Australia, they have a wonderful platform that kind of walk you through step by step as an organisation, how to how to build a reconciliation action plan. But it’s it’s all about finding what what role can can we all play in our various places, in society and business and culture to to to bring reconciliation authentically into our communities. And it’s interesting because the feedback that that we’ve had at one step walks from a number of migrant resource centres is that, again, this is an area that a lot of people with refugee experience say, oh, I’d love to learn more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and culture and tradition and language. But there’s zero funding about this and and very limited resources to do that. So we’re in a position at One Step Walks to be able to start providing that initial experience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture on our walks and yet something that we’re quite excited about.


Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:22:38] Hmm. I mean, I remember when I was at school, we studied Australian history in the early parts of high school, but it started in 1770, really. And I’m not sure whether it was that different when you went through was probably a few years after me Anna, but we know so little. Yeah. About our Indigenous First Nations people. And given it was a country made up of 250 or so different nations. Yeah. And we just have so much to learn. And yeah, this is a yeah.


Anna Hohenboken [00:23:14] And I think, you know, it’s also something that we were talking about before is the idea of racism and making sure that we’re an inclusive society and that we’re combating these otherist ideas when it comes to race is really important. It applies in so many areas across our society here in Australia and and around the world. I think it’s a really important message. To talk about whether we’re talking about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander acknowledgement and reconciliation or whether it’s newly arrived refugees or whether it’s migrants or whatever it is, that it’s really important that we come together and we support and celebrate multiculturalism.


Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:23:57] Well, that was a big initiative because I know when I was growing up in the 60s and 70s in Australia, having come from another country, I mean, I was born overseas. I was born in Israel. And when I arrived to and I lived in Australia in the 50s, 60s and 70s, we didn’t celebrate multiculturalism. I can tell you that we all wanted to be Australians. And the less we mentioned our cultural background, maybe that’s where we wanted to be. You know, we and it was really only in the I suppose, in the 80s and 90s with the Hawke Keating initiatives and also with Whitlam, there’s something about that political background. There isn’t in any way the kind of celebrated this multicultural ethnic background. It made our country so much richer for.


Anna Hohenboken [00:24:48] Absolutely.


Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:24:49] But you Anna you, as you were telling me at the beginning of this conversation, all the things that you’re getting into, you kind of have really lobbed into this at a very appropriate time. All of the things you’re exploring. Are very current.


Anna Hohenboken [00:25:06] Yeah, absolutely. I know when when when I came across One Step Works, which it was. It was it’s almost like a love story. Let’s face it. It just felt right. They they felt right. I felt right. And yeah, it really was you know, it’s amazing how sometimes just the right time in the right place and the right people come together. But it’s been so exciting. And this is, I suppose, the silver lining of of the lockdown’s and everything is because we weren’t, you know, doing business as usual. We’d started doing these digital programmes and we had capacity to explore other things. And that’s how we had the space to create the Reconciliation Action Plan and put that into practise and and start, you know, these broader conversations. It was a bit of a surprise for us, but it was a very lovely little silver lining to the year that was.


Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:26:02] And if people wanting to get involved with with it and support it, how how would we do that? How could they do that?


Anna Hohenboken [00:26:10] Join us on a walk. Absolutely. We’ve got to what’s coming up is actually one on May 30th that they’re always on Sundays, May 30th, except for the corporate walks. So the best way to get involved is to actually go to our website, which is One Step Walks . org and go to register your interest and then your name will be we’ll go on to our database and we’ll send you out an email with all the all the latest details about upcoming walks. So the work that’s coming up on the 30th of May will be at Balmoral Beach, actually,.


Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:26:51] And Raeanne, MECA, what MECA is assisting, how can people can people help at MECA as well?


Raeanne Sabira [00:27:02] Yeah, we can help with the food bank we monthly helping the community around the area once a month with food and we have some budget for people going through a crisis. We help them with their bills if they go through this crisis as well. And we have classes for them to just have, relax and learn some English and have a social life as well. And we have swim class for just ladies. It’s just because mostly about women, we don’t want to be isolated. We have so many classes for women once a week. We have the swim class for women once a week and have citizenship class for everyone. English classes, we have computers, people can walk in and stay there for hours and use our computers, which is a big help for especially new arrivals, and they’re happy with that.


Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:28:08] And yes, I imagine culturally, the change from be it Afghanistan, Pakistan or any of those other countries that you mentioned, Syria particularly, gosh, I can only imagine what refugees from Syria are having to go through as well. The shock, the cultural shock must be quite dramatic in itself, apart from not being able to speak the language.


Raeanne Sabira [00:28:33] Yes, it is. It is it is a big shock because normally parents want to keep the culture. Hmm. That just makes it really hard for for young people, for the new generation in here. And this is really hard for them to manage with two culture. And it’s actually sometimes it is. Make them to. Come up from the part where it is normally to go, take them in the right way and make them to choose something to to ruin their life. And this just because of the culture, because of holding in their culture or holding on. On religion, which is in country, we have culture, we have religion, we have to just accept each other as a human and any country we are living.


Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:29:27] Hmm. Well, I think that’s a great a great note for us to finish on. And and I want to thank you guys. And we’re going to have links to the One Step Walks as well as MECA. And let’s look forward to catching up on that next walk. So thank you so much for joining us today.


Anna Hohenboken [00:29:43] Sounds wonderful. Can’t wait to work with you again, Ron.


Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:29:46] Thanks, Ron. Thanks for having us. Thank you. Bye bye.


Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:29:52] The issue of being an immigrant is a complex one. Most people leave their countries for very good reasons. They don’t leave because life is so good where they were. They leave for a variety of reasons. And most of them revolve around the fact that hardships occur there personally, culturally, religiously, and a health and safety aspect. There are so many reasons. But people leave countries to find a better life. And when they arrive, it’s invariably they are very focussed on making the best of that decision and typically, I think, work very hard to become part of our society. And the next generation often are very hardworking, focussed, studious people who are very motivated to improve their own lives and the lives of their families because of where they’ve come. And this has been the case in Australia for 250 years since we first arrived here in 1770 and since the first colony 1788. It’s been a process that has gone on continuously and in waves, be they British, be they Chinese, be they southern European, be they from the caucuses, be they from Mediterranea, from different parts of Africa or South America, you name it. Wherever South East Asia, there have been various waves of immigrants that have come. And the likelihood is that your own background is fits into to that, because unless, as I said, First Nations, Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, then you are an immigrant to this land, either part or in full. And I think that’s a timely reminder for us. And I think we should be welcoming of that. And so these initiatives I came in first contact with One Step Walks in 2019 and went on a couple of walks with my family and we met people from Afghanistan. And it was a very interesting, a very sobering experience to learn of their journey, to learn first hand of some of the challenges which they have had experienced. And actually, if I went back into my own background, these would have been the challenges that my own parents would have experienced when they arrived in Australia as we arrived in Australia in 1956. So so we’ve all had our own story. And reconnecting with refugees in the way that One Step Walks does that in a very social in a nice environment. We went on walks at Botanical Gardens. The next walk is in Balmoral. So we’ll have links to all of those initiatives. And if you wanting to dive in and join us on one of those walks, I’d really encourage you to do it. Look, it’s it’s a really interesting and heartwarming experience where you just get to connect with real people on a real journey through their lives. I hope you enjoyed that episode. Now listen, don’t forget to leave us a review, that’s how we push up the ratings on on a podcast. Don’t forget to leave us a review. And we’ve got some exciting initiatives. We’re going to be organising some live events, Q&A, which is going to be really an interesting experience for us. There’s a whole new production team that has joined me on this journey in Unstress. And I’m really excited about where we’re going to take the programme into the coming weeks and months and years ahead. So I hope this finds you well until next time. This is Dr Ron Ehrlich. Be well.