Multicultural Australia

image courtesy of ABC (Australia)

To Open Your Door Is To Open Your Heart

by Rod Lewis

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To have someone turn to me and say “thank you for saving my life” is a moment of such powerful emotion that it’s burnt in my memory forever.

My door wasn’t always open; but then again, it was never really closed. If you were like me and were content in life, then the thought of making a REAL difference is something that others do.

But one day that all changed, and to have someone experience the absolute worst that humanity has to offer, then put their trust in me is, without doubt, the greatest privilege I have ever and will ever experience.

I have been devastated and overjoyed, sometimes within days of each other, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I think back to my days – the majority of my 47 years – when my world was a relatively happy place, filled with the usual arguments, laughter, greed and generosity. My family and friends kept me sane and safe, and my daily routine was sometimes boring but always heading in the right direction. It was comfortable and I was content.

I have a passion for radio plays and a vivid imagination, so was quite excited to discover the non-profit ZBS Foundation in the USA, with their outstanding series of entertaining Jack Flanders audio stories. He’s an explorer and adventurer who gets into all sorts of kooky supernatural and spiritual strife. On his business card is written “What appears to be coming at you is coming from you“. Buddha has a similar saying, “I am the heir to my actions”. Both of these quotes resonated with me. I’m not spiritual or religious but they did make me start to question what I was doing in my life to ensure I earned good karma.

“What appears to be coming at you is coming from you”

The answer, it turned out, was not much. Sure, I’d help friends out, tell my family I loved them, and open the door for an aged person, but it was all within the confines of my safe little world. The bigger world picture was missing. I had no sense of community outside of the people I knew.

I’d read elsewhere that if you want to grow as a person, you need to step out of your comfort zone. I’m a people person at heart, so on the suggestion of a former work colleague, I signed up to be a volunteer mentor to a refugee. A measly six hours per month was the only commitment required.

After training, I was matched with a refugee who had been living in Australia for 3 years. He worked full time, had a family, good English, was active in his community and yet, in all that time, he’d never once been invited to an Aussie person’s house for dinner. He was keen to break into the Australian community but 3 years on, he was requesting a mentor because all other avenues had failed.

I soon learned that my assumptions about how migrants always stick to their own were wrong. It was actually my fault; our fault. Most of us don’t let them into our lives because they look different or struggle with language and we’re either fearful or can’t be bothered making a little bit of effort.

To have someone turn to me and say “thank you for saving my life” is a moment of such powerful emotion that it’s burnt in my memory forever.

That first experience of getting to know a refugee, his family and his friends not only opened my eyes to my own culture, but opened my mind to the issues of the world. I began to understand more about the plight of refugees and later, about asylum seekers. I learned that most of my assumptions were wrong, born from a combination of ignorance and a belief in the words of politicians and media – both of which have vested interests to keep us living in fear and ignorance. The reality was nothing like I’d been led to believe by either of them.

Since those early days I’ve connected with so many cultures. I’ve supported adult refugees and asylum seekers who are trying to find a place in our world, and over the past few years, unaccompanied minors – teenagers who have made the journey to Australia with no family – kids who are on their own in a frightening new world.

Through helping them, offering friendship, and watching them blossom into independent people keen on giving back to the community, I have never once been disappointed. Afghans, Africans, Iraqis, Egyptian, Tamils… All cultures have good and bad people but most people are inherently good and almost all those fleeing persecution are eager to embrace our own culture. Yes, even most Muslims! Remember, these are people fleeing from the very same extremism that frightens most of us.

For myself, life has turned around almost as much as my stomach has turned round. People without much to their name will often express their thanks with food… and plenty of it.

By becoming aware of the devastation that has affected their lives so drastically, I’ve grown ever more thankful of my own life and appreciative of the little things. Those issues I argued about before now seen inconsequential. In fact, I can’t recall having a really good row for the past several years! I’ve learned to prioritise, relax, communicate instead of yell, accept my own faults and find joy in things that I’d previously never noticed.

By helping others outside of my own circle, I’ve not only matured and found how much kindness I have in my own heart, but I’ve discovered Jack Flanders really did have it right. Every day I’m surrounded by so much love and happiness that I’m buoyed even in those awful times that life invariably throws at us.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that not a single day goes by when I don’t smile at how fulfilled my life has become. My circle of friends looks like the United Nations and every day I’m touched by the kindness of others. I wake with purpose, all from that simple step of extending myself for six hours a month.

My journey may be unique but I doubt it. I see so many others out there helping the homeless, mentoring kids or refugees, visiting nursing homes, or volunteering for charities. They do it because it does make a difference, to themselves and others. It doesn’t have to be big. It just has to count.

It’s easy to find a new passion or expand your horizons with an existing passion – just get out there and do it. A simple Google search will get you started – search for “mentoring programs” or “volunteering” to find local contacts or see what’s in your city. I can’t recommend it enough because if you dare to be different, you will be.

by Rod Lewis


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Rod Lewis - Twitter ProfileRod Lewis
Works in IT by day, but by night the mask comes off as he reveals his true colours as a youth mentor, refugee advocate and a part-time Arts Editor in Adelaide, South Australia. He was nominated for the Pride of Australian 2012 Community Spirit Award and was a South Australian finalist for the 2014 Australian of the Year Local Hero Award.

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