Mariam from Sierra Leone

Our BUV RAALS Working Group was approached by the Sierra Leone community leader here in Melbourne requesting assistance to bring Mariam and 10 family members to Australia.

Mariam was reunited with 8 of her family members including her husband, daughter, widowed sister-in-law and her 3 young children, a niece and stepson.

They have settled in Carrum Downs, a world away from their native Sierra Leone; a country still feeling the affects of civil war that, in 1998, saw much bloodshed. Many were killed and others fled across the country desperately struggling to survive. It was then that Mariam lost contact with her family when rebels invaded her hometown in the diamond-rich Kono district. She was away in another district working and not able to return home. Her mother and father had been killed and, after years of not hearing about her husband and daughter, she believed them to be dead too. Similarly, her scattered family, who were hiding in small villages across the country believed she was dead.

The arrival marks the end of an extraordinary journey. After so many years the joy of the reunion has quelled more than a decade of pain. “I am so happy. This is just so amazing. I am so happy”, she said. “I always dreamt I could see them again someday.” Now they share their memories of those years of separation, stories of survival in refugee camps. They laugh about life back home comparing it to now. Of fighting over food, supplies and blanket handouts while now ‘enjoying good food and a lovely home with such a great kitchen’. They are learning again to live together as a family, a very big extended family of 22.

Of her new life in Australia Mariam says “sometimes your head spins and you try not to remember because remembering can make you crazy.” But Australia offered her hope and a new beginning which she can now share with her family.

Mariam has found Australia has been very welcoming – she has never felt discrimination. She found understanding and support with a friend from Indonesia who she met at English classes. Sharing each other’s pain and joy helped. Mariam is loved at her workplace. She is ‘friendly and fun’ although they also understood that, sometimes, her grief and loss made her sad and she cried a lot. She experienced unexpected kindness from her church family who empathized with her grief – but now share her joy. This is the Australia that her family are now learning to appreciate.

“God is always with us in our sadness and joy; he offers hope”, says Mariam.

Mariam’s husband, now dreams of working in Australia and having a large garden to tend; Mariam of visiting her homeland.

Mariam and her siblings first came here with the assistance of Refugee Airfare Loan Scheme and some years later RAALS assisted again to reunite more family members. Mariam’s story brings hope.