A Homely Welcome
Being a part of the Homestay Program has been a humbling and heart-warming experience for one young Skennars Head family.
Before settling in the Ballina region, establishing their physiotherapy business and having their family, Romy Neate and Ben Seberry spent 10 years travelling, visiting some 60 countries around the globe. “Especially in the Middle East, people were so hospitable and did things to help us expecting nothing in return,” Romy said. “I’ve always felt that I wanted to give something back, to help others. Welcoming refugees into our home shows our children that the world is actually a small place and that your ‘family’ can exist far beyond your community.”
It was several years ago that Romy and Ben’s son Sunny was moved by the plight of refugees held in detention centres in northern Australia. “He wanted to visit Darwin and Christmas Island, or write letters to the people there,” Romy says. “It was around that time that we learnt about Ballina Region for Refugees and its Homestay Program and we thought ‘we can do this’.”
The first people they hosted were an Iranian family from Sydney, with four children under five years of age. “It was really full-on, but lots of fun,” said Ben. “The mother wanted to cook for us, so we bought halal ingredients and she made us some lovely food.”
What Romy and Ben didn’t learn until later in the visit was that they were the first Australians the family had socialised with in two years.
Since then the couple have hosted a second family, also from Sydney – a Pakistani mother and her two daughters.
“It’s been hugely rewarding for our family,” Romy said. “We wanted to help our children understand the suffering of others and to realise how privileged we are. These people don’t have many choices – both families were on temporary bridging visas – and their future is largely in the hands of others. They had escaped horrendous situations and were living in limbo. It must be so soul destroying.”
Ben said he was eager for their three children – Zoe, 15, Sunny, 13, and 8-year-old Eddie – to see that refugees are normal people. “It’s not until you meet people in this situation, and actually talk to them, that you see how much they are like us,” he said. “We have always been keen to give our children different cultural perspectives and the Homestay Program has been a great way to do that.”
Excursions to Broken Head and Byron Bay, and bushwalking at Protesters Falls formed part of the itineraries. “But it’s really important to be respectful of your visitors’ wishes,” Romy said. “Our first family was really keen to see the area and do lots of things, but the second family needed a rest and were happy just to hang around. It’s their time out after all.”
For Zoe and Sunny, the experiences have been illuminating. “You see stories in the news about refugees, but it’s not until you meet them that you learn what they’ve been through,” Zoe said.
“Every time someone helps, it makes a big difference,” Sunny said. “It’s just about being nice and it makes you happy to help someone with less than you.”
And there have been broader rewards for the entire family. “When you meet people from another country and culture, you learn to appreciate your own country more,” Romy said. “Our family gets a lot out of the Homestay visits, too.
“It’s been an important reminder that even though refugees are all individuals, with their own stories, they need what we all need – love and support. They are people escaping hardship, who are happy to have a break from their struggles. It must be lovely for them to see their kids happy and having fun.”
To learn more about the Homestay Program, please contact Gunela Astbrink, Homestay Coordinator at email@example.com
Information about Ballina Region for Refugees is at: www. br4r.org.au