East Meets West at Vaucluse House: a Story of Women Supporting Women
Who would have thought that the most enriching cultural experience this year awaited me a mere 15 minute drive away from my home in Sydney’s east .
The venue was Vaucluse House, located in the affluent harbourside suburb of Vaucluse, the most unlikely location for a multi cultural gathering. On the grounds of this 19th century estate, which once belonged to the late colonial explorer and politician William Charles Wentworth, I shared a picnic lunch with 10 friends and 25 refugee and migrant mums, predominantly from Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. How a travel blogger like me managed to co-organise a get together like this started with a simple conversation over a coffee with my friend Raja.
In my capacity as Ambassador for the Real Madrid Foundation in Australia, I met Raja Yassine, community outreach officer for Holroyd High School, a school in Western Sydney that we were formalising a sports programme relationship with. Drawn to Raja’s warm ebullient personality and generosity of spirit, we became fast friends.
Over a coffee and chat one day, Raja reflected out loud on the struggles experienced by some of Holroyd High migrant and refugee mums: the trauma, the loss, the loneliness. A devoted mother of four herself, she expressed her desire to start a mother’s group to support them.
“I’d love to organise different outings for these women and give them the chance to meet other women from the community that they wouldn’t normally come in contact with,” Raja said, “ but I can’t do this on my own, Victoria. If I can get a group of our mothers together, can you invite some of the women that you know?”
With a firm belief in building bridges and not walls, I didn’t need to be asked twice. With her heart set on picnic lunch at Vaucluse House, the date was set for the 22 November. Permission was granted for the outing and transport was approved by Holroyd High’s Principal, Dorothy Hoddinott.
Morning showers threatened to spoil the day. While the group made the hour’s drive from Merrylands station to Vaucluse House, 10 of my assorted friends/ family members and I busied ourselves with setting up picnic tables and fold up chairs on an idyllic grassy patch within the lush 10-hectare grounds, laying out the food that we had brought. And just like that, the sun shone as the tour bus arrived. 25 women piled out, most in hijab, all with huge smiles and enough food to feed half of Sydney. Embracing like old friends and kissing three times on alternate cheeks, we immediately got down to the business of communicating as women, whether we shared the same language or not.
In the span of 3 and a half hours, we talked food and family. Some of us lent an ear and shed tears as tales of extreme hardship were shared. The Oxytocin flowed and emotional gaps were filled on both sides, the impact on both groups profound. All of us gained a sense of being part of a greater whole and that we shared in the same destiny. Exhausted and happy, we embraced as we said our goodbyes, already looking forward to our next get together, “Inshallah.”
'' Women hold up half the sky, '' according to Chairman Mao. The glue that holds the family together, she is the strength that buoys up her husband and children. When women are empowered, they are better able to play a full part in decision-making within the household as well as in the greater community. What our Vaucluse House get-together showed us was that when we lift our fellow sisters up, we uplift ourselves in the process.