Prior to an event hosted by the Australian Embassy to the Holy See for World Day of Migrants and Refugees on 24 September 2021, Catholic Outlook had the chance to ask Rosemary Kariuki, 2021 Local Hero Australian of the Year, some additional questions about her work with domestic violence victims and other isolated migrant and refugee women.
Catholic Outlook: Have you been able to continue your work during lockdown? If so, how have you adapted?
Rosemary Kariuki: I have continued my work as the Multicultural Community Liaison Officer and the 2021 Australia Local Hero. I have adopted the Zoom/Teams/Webex world where I reach the community using one of these online technologies. I visit domestic violence (DV) victims COVID-19 safely, and drop food hampers for those COVID positive and DV victims who need it. I get in touch with women on WhatsApp or phone call to check on how they are coping in this lockdown. We do our coffee club on Zoom [as] a way to see if the women are doing okay especially with the home-schooling and through this coffee club, women always come to report the DV. Most of them are very isolated.
CO: Have you seen a change in domestic violence over the past 12 weeks lockdown, particularly amongst migrant and refugee women?
RK: I haven’t seen a change in domestic and family violence maybe because the women don’t know that they could get help because of the lockdown. I continue checking with the ones already going through courts or have AVOs in place and the ones that are coming to the police attention. This doesn’t mean that the DV hasn’t gone up, because we don’t know what’s happening in those locked doors during lockdown. Our role is to make sure that there is help and they can walk to the Police station or call even with the 5km lockdown rules. We continue giving them information through media outlets, WhatsApp and programs like Women Coffee Clubs, that are running in Macarthur and Camden Local Area Command.
CO: The Pope’s message for World Day of Migrant and Refugees talks about an “ever wider ‘we’” where he talks about ensuring that no one is left behind, especially migrants, refugees, and victims of human trafficking who are most often on the peripheries. How do you feel our global society and the global Catholic Church can do this?
RK: I agree with the Pope’s message. Let us as Catholics and everyone round the world extend that hand out and reach out to that person who has no family in their country, no hope, they don’t know where their kids nor families are. Let us keep praying and financially supporting our less fortunate community members.
Let us push the governments to take more refugees like what is happening in Afghanistan now.
CO: The Pope also says in his message “Our societies will have a ‘colourful’ future, enriched by diversity and by cultural exchanges”. Is this something you feel you can particularly relate to with your own experience?
RK: I keep saying “let us not live in SILOS”, let us embrace the Multiculturalism in this world. The beauty of different communities sharing a meal, dancing and storytelling, makes the world a beautiful world and once we realise that we are all the same (as seen in the Rosemary’s Way Film), we will respect and appreciate each other and other communities and wars in different parts of the world will be history. Let us have many Cultural Exchange Programs that I run everywhere in the world and this will break those barriers and understanding of we are all the same or we are all one and our National Anthem says.
CO: Do you feel excited that the Pope is recognising the value of diversity in this way?
RK: I feel excited that the Pope is recognising diversity. To finish hatred in this world we need to diversify even our thoughts and actions.
CO: Do you have any further comments about being asked to speak at this event?
RK: I was humbled and honoured to be part of this event. It shows that the Pope’s message of enriching diversity and colourful future in cultural exchange is a sign that we should all be living together. The refugees and migrants who comes from very culturally rich backgrounds needs to have a normal life just like anyone of us. Therefore, let us all chose to be part of the happy global world and not hide behind hatred. Getting to know your neighbour is the beginning of this transformation of the Pope’s wish. Walk to and knock on the door of that lady wearing a hijab, or that man wearing a turban and share that free smile.
Rosemary has made a video endorsement of the Diocese of Parramatta’s Iris Women App for women who may be experiencing domestic violence. You can find the video and information about the app here.