I learnt a little about hope over 20 years ago when I met a young girl on the Thai Cambodian border. She had walked with her family across Cambodia and a few days earlier had lost her legs and family when a landmine exploded. I clumsily asked: “do you think you’ll see your family again?” She replied “To live is to hope”.
Soon after, I learnt about courage from a Vietnamese boy. Referred for therapy, he had been mute for weeks following a pirate attack in which he saw his mother raped, his father beaten to death, and his baby sister drowned. He would paint pictures and after about eight sessions, he came and presented his last painting and spoke for the first time: “I’ll be OK; I can go forward knowing there is also good in the world.”
We’ve be shaped by our accompaniment. So many refugees endured privation and unholy abuse before escaping to seek a dignified life.
They faced the perils of drowning, brigands, and landmines. They endured years of uncertainty in camp conditions. In their quest for something nobler for themselves and families, they suffered the anguish of leaving home, loved ones and the familiar.
Many came to countries like Australia and encountered bureaucrats who hid behind bogus accusations of queue jumpers and characterless claims about border protection. These asylum seekers risked much for authenticity.
The experience changes those who accompany. Andy, a theologian visited the Thai Cambodian border during summer breaks 20 years ago. He still ministers in detention centres in Melbourne, writes passionately against those who punish asylum seekers, and gathers young adults beginning their journey into justice.
Mick spent a summer in the Philippines as a scholastic 25 years ago and built an on-line university on the Thai Burma border camps. He knows the value of education and the futility of years wasted in camps.
Sometimes we can only respond with hospitality and compassion in a cold and selfish world. But if all we have are pure intentions and practical effort, then we need never fear. Thanks to all who have been travelling companions.
Fr. Peter Hosking, SJ
Countries Related to this Region
Australia, Cambodia, Thailand