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Finding treasure in dark places

Updated: Oct 9, 2021

While living and working in Nauru in 2016 I met a young Afghan man named Ali (pseudonim) who was one of the staff at an organisation I was working for and also a refugee. His charismatic smile and energy immediately drew my attention as it was in stark contrast to what I expected from a refugee subject to Australia’s offshore processing system.

Sure, he had good and bad days but was most often grounded within a positive and future-focused approach. I remember chatting with him one day after a very difficult period for staff and clients in Nauru and asked him what his secret was. He told me that in his culture there is a saying: “treasure is hidden in dark places”. This phrase instantly resonated with me and became integral to the establishment of HOST International six months later.

I have spent many years as a social worker being fascinated at how some people manage to survive significant struggles in life with minimal external support. It has made me question the role of social services in supporting people facing adversity and has strengthened an internal belief that hardship can be overcome with the right support AND the right attitude.

Last year I worked with a team from University of South Australia under the leadership of Professor Nicholas Proctor to undertake a systematic review of academic studies that had sought to measure coping factors in refugee populations where protection status was unclear. Having established HOST International the year before, I wanted to move beyond an analysis of problems or stressors to a focus on enablers of wellbeing for many refugees who will likely wait nearly 20 years for resettlement. I wanted to understand why some people cope better than others despite facing the same stressors. I also wanted to know how we could best help people in these situations.

We published a paper in the journal ‘Health and Social Care in the Community’ that, among other things, found that one of the most significant factors that contributed towards psychological wellbeing was establishing future oriented thinking by engaging in activities that prepare for the future and look forward to something better. At HOST we call this HOPE.

Believing in the possibility of something better in the future, albeit small, is a significant factor in helping people overcome and to not give up. It is what I believe has helped many refugees in Nauru, like Ali, survive through that experience. He believed that Nauru was not the end of the line and that perhaps he could even learn and grow from the experience.

As a social worker, I believe that the role of services is to walk alongside people during these experiences, to inspire reasonable hope, and to fill the gaps in knowledge and resources that the person needs in order to move forward. Therefore, I established HOST International with a focus on activating the inner strengths in individuals and communities through education, collaboration and by dreaming about an alternate future. In other words, we seek to create hope in a better future by helping people to take action in the present to prepare for it.

I believe we all have a role in keeping hope alive in our community and for those who are struggling. This may be achieved by an act of kindness or by helping someone overcome a hurdle in their life. Sometimes it is just sitting with someone who is hurting. I believe it is a tool that can be used in reducing hatred and fear in our community.

How will you create hope?!

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