Stories help heal refugees

YOUNG refugees in south-west Sydney have joined together to share their stories of survival and to search for a better life through performance art.

Tree Of Life sees these young people take part in a series of drama therapy and story-telling workshops at Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre

Its aim was to get students thinking about their past as a way of tackling problems with resettlement and finding a place within their new communities.

The students taking part were from Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and Serbia, and went to high schools in the south-west.

Miller Technology High School student Ali Al Ali, 15, said his family had recently arrived in Australia from Iran. They had been trying to leave for more than 10 years.

The family were granted residency after they had been eight months on boats and another eight months in Australian detention centres.

Ali said he wanted to be a part of the program to share his story and learn new skills.

"When you have been carrying something on your back and you take it off it's a nice feeling," he said.

"It's not that people on boats come here to have a holiday, but they have problems in their life and they come for a better future."

One of the program's producers, Catherine Maguire-Donvito, said students' confidence and self-esteem had been boosted by learning how to perform.

"Our aim is to assist them in their recovery from trauma and make the Australian public aware of what it really means to be a refugee," she said. "When they tell their stories, it's in another dimension. Their English and communication skills improve and their bi-cultural understandings as well.

"Having them understand and accept their stories is a part of their healing process."

Tree Of Life performances will be held at Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre tomorrow and Friday.

For information and bookings, call 9824 1121.

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