SUAN Lee Campbell has a grand vision to bring people together on the Mornington Peninsula.
A strong advocate for refugees and the disadvantaged, Campbell, of Rosebud, is hoping to encourage others to embrace newcomers to Australia and invite them to the peninsula to be part of the community.
She has organised a fundraising lunch next week (28 October) to help support the refugee cause.
“I think the peninsula is a great place to live and I would love to invite people to a lunch to listen to inspiring stories from refugees and share great food,” she said.
Campbell said there would be speakers from Ukraine, Afghanistan and Syria, as well as people from disadvantaged groups.
The mother-of-two moved to Australia more than 35 years ago and started her involvement with refugees after completing an English language teaching course and volunteering with Southern Migrant and Refugee Centre in Dandenong a few years ago.
“I did it mainly to get to know other multicultural groups, because there were not many migrants here on the peninsula,” she said.
During lockdown Campbell also started volunteering with AMES, a Melbourne-based provider of settlement services for refugees and migrants. These include on-arrival settlement support, English language and literacy training, vocational education and training, and employment services.
It was during this time that Singapore-born Campbell developed a desire to do something more to help refugees who had escaped injustice in their homelands and sought refuge in Australia.
“When the Taliban took over Afghanistan, we saw the desperation of Afghans who were associated with allied forces to escape,” she said.
“The ones who made it to Australia were faced with lockdown and there were no supplies of basic living stuff for them. As an AMES volunteer, I went along to the city where many new refugees were housed and we opened an op shop in a hall so they could get any supplies they needed that AMES could rustle up, like hygiene packs, nappies and clothes.
“I noticed the refugees had nothing [in which] to hold their meagre belongings, so I appealed to our Mornington Peninsula community via Facebook for donations of suitcases and prams. I was overwhelmed by the compassionate and generous responses. We could not open our front door because it was piled up by the donations of so many things, more than I had asked for.”
Campbell said a Balinese man living on the peninsula said he did not have prams but offered his utility and trailer to drive the donations to the city.
“It took three trips to get all the donations to the city. I received so many warm and generous messages from our community. How wonderful was that?”
Last year, Campbell organised with AMES to run an exploratory excursion for a group of recent Afghan refugees to visit the Rosebud area as a possible settlement. The event included representatives of Mornington Peninsula Shire Council, the federal government, businesses, agriculture, aged care and support services, education and medical professionals.
Ten family groups came with AMES staff – the first trip outside of Melbourne for the refugees.
Campbell said she did not know of any refugees yet living on the peninsula, but that it was natural for refugee families to want to stay together, after experiencing similar traumas.
“I’m sure it’s only a matter of time that the next generation of refugees will venture further afield and find the peninsula a very attractive place to live and work,” she said.
“There is already an Afghan community in Frankston. The chef providing the event’s lunch was a refugee and now owns a successful restaurant in Mornington.
“This is my hope for the future of the peninsula community, that people from refugee backgrounds will one day call the peninsula their home and bless us with their diverse skills and experiences.”
Campbell said she believed the peninsula was a “caring community”, open to refugees.
“I’m helping to provide opportunities for the peninsula community to finally meet and mingle with the refugees. This lunch is an inaugural and unique community connection event,” she said.
“The lunch will provide an opportunity for understanding and awareness hearing their side of the story.”
The lunch will be on Saturday 28 October at the New Peninsula Baptist Church, 370 Craigie Road, Mount Martha, from noon to 2pm. Bookings essential. Book at Eventbrite, and search for Sharing Food and Stories community lunch on 28 October or email email@example.com