"Watch out for snakes. If it runs after you, run away. Let’s go.” Solid advice for newly arrived immigrants and refugee kids setting foot into the Outback.
The First Hike Project is a program that aims to introduce immigrant and refugee kids to the great Australian bush. Five times a year, Neil McCulloch and a few volunteers trample along Western Australia’s Bibbulmun Track with a group of teenagers in tow.
As a migrant with Scottish, South African and Australian heritage, Neil says that he found doors opened wide for him when he arrived to Australia, but that not everyone experiences that.
After working in construction and mining for over a decade, Neil became aware of the struggles young refugees arriving in Australia can face.
“It’s disappointing when politics becomes the deciding factor and not humanity.”
“I find it hard to believe that a wealthy country like Australia can be so unwelcoming to such a small amount of people,” he says. “It’s disappointing when politics becomes the deciding factor and not humanity.”
Karen is a support worker for young refugees at the Freemantle Multicultural Centre. A lot of the young people Karen sees have been through the intense trauma of war. She says that they often feel isolated and overwhelmed by the challenges ahead.
Karen recommended the First Hike Project to nineteen-year-old Farouq, who arrived from Syria last year.
“Some of the country doesn't like refugees and we feel like, so sad about that. We just want to make another life here,”Farouq says.
“It's so simple but it’s life changing for them.”
“He came back and it's not that the challenges or the struggles were gone but you could see that sense of hope that he could belong,” says Karen. “They've just been out of the city for two days and it was just like everything had been lifted off. It's so simple but its life changing for them.”
Neil says, “With a different turn of the dice, that could be us. And I’m in a position where it's no big deal to give someone a hand.”
Farouq says, “We want to say thank you, thank you, thank you for them because it's really nice to have good friends who is Australian people and they were so friendly when they welcome us here.”