Refugees' joy as visitors take to the waves at Pambula Beach | Photos

"It's a beautiful day" Aicha and her son Souleymane from Guinea. Photo: Rachel Mounsey
"It's a beautiful day" Aicha and her son Souleymane from Guinea. Photo: Rachel Mounsey

A group of families from a mix of countries including Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, El Salvador and Guinea took to the waves at Pambula beach last weekend.

It was the first time they had felt the Sapphire Coast sand between their toes, it was also the first time they had experienced Australian life outside of Canberra.

The morning at Pambula beach was spent with huge excitement as kids shovelled into sand, dived into waves and sped along on boogie boards.

There was no time for small talk and interviews as all the families were far too busy taking to the waves with joyful gusto.

Surfs up : Civil engineer Haytham Alaiek and his 4-year-old son Maher from Syria visited Pambula Beach for the first time over the weekend. Photo: Rachel Mounsey

Surfs up : Civil engineer Haytham Alaiek and his 4-year-old son Maher from Syria visited Pambula Beach for the first time over the weekend. Photo: Rachel Mounsey

The Pambula Surf Life Savers took some keen punters out for a spin on the IRBs and built sandcastles with kids. There was enthusiasm all round as Haytham Alaiek from Syria tried his hand at surfing.

Clad in goggles and board shorts, Mr Alaiek said he was keen to take the waves on and gave the thumbs up before heading out into the small swell.

The three-day visit organised by the Social Justice Advocates of the Far South Coast (SJA) in cooperation with Migrant and Refugee Settlement Services (MARRS) in Canberra aimed to share the beauty of the coast with refugee families who haven't had a chance to experience rural Australia.

"Many of these people have been in centres and camps around cities. We want to introduce them to what life is like away from the cities and give them a breath of fresh air," Michael Brosnan from the SJA said.

Last year 10 families visited the Sapphire Coast as part of the program. Following on from the success of last year's program, SJA was keen to organise more. The visit was the first for 2019; nine households across the Bega Valley welcomed the families into their homes and hosted them over the weekend.

"People opening up their homes gives the refugees a chance to meet different types of Australians. It shows an acceptance they feel like they belong," Narish Gunasekere, manager at MARRS, said.

Karen and John MacMahon from Myrtle Mountain hosted an Iranian family last year. The couple said they had such a wonderful experience that they were keen to do it all over again.

This year, civil engineers Manar and Haytham Alaiek and their four-year-old son Maher from Syria were their guests. Ms MacMahon said evenings were spent sitting on the verandah laughing and talking as they shared personal stories.

"We laughed and we also cried, we learnt a lot about Syria, its history, people, geography and the impact of what is happening over there," Ms MacMahon said.

New found friends: (L-R)Host family John and Karen MacMahon with Manar and Haytham Alaiek and son Maher. Photo: Rachel Mounsey

New found friends: (L-R)Host family John and Karen MacMahon with Manar and Haytham Alaiek and son Maher. Photo: Rachel Mounsey

"Manar and Haytham's stories were humbling - and they have so much gratitude. It makes you realise how people in the world really just want peace and a place to call home."

Ms MacMahon said over the weekend the two families bonded and by the time the Alaieks were leaving they had formed a strong friendship.

"We really hit it off from the start, we had such a great time - we laughed a lot. When they headed off on the bus we all got a bit teary."

Mr Brosnan said there were more refugee hosting programs scheduled for this year. One in early July and another in late September.

"It's a beautiful human thing - we encourage people to join in whether they want to host or transport and just come along" he said.

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