12 Days of life-changing stories from The Welcome Dinner Project…
This Christmas season, we wanted to look back on the past 5 years of The Welcome Dinner Project and reflect on how much it has grown and impacted people’s lives. From small beginnings in Sydney, over 300 dinners have since been held across Australia. But the biggest indicator of its success, and the most rewarding part about The Welcome Dinner Project, is the individual stories we hear from dinner participants, hosts and volunteers. Each story is unique as our participants hail from all over the world. But we find time and time again that they share a common trait, and that is the Welcome Dinners provides a community and sense of inclusiveness that can otherwise be hard to find for new arrivals in Australia.
Over the next 12 Day of Christmas, we will be sharing life-changing stories from The Welcome Dinner Project – we hope you find joy in them as much as we do!
The 1st Day of Christmas: Valerie’s Story…
In 2012-2013 I travelled around Australia on a working holiday and at that time I met my husband. He is from Melbourne and we quickly became real soul mates. I felt so lucky! I came back to Australia in 2013 as a resident and because my husband is local I never had a problem connecting with locals. I joined free adult English lessons, where I got to know a lot of people. So in the beginning I didn’t feel isolated or lovely. But things changed when I got a job in a call centre at a health insurance company. It was not a best job. I know Melbourne as a multicultural place, people are friendly, you are just part of the city enjoying life here. But on the phone many people were rude and even racist. They can be harsh and attack you because you have an accent. They said “I don’t know what you talking about, put me on to someone else”, “Where do you come from, are you from the Philippines?” It was a big shock for me because I had never experienced that. I stuck around at that job for 8 months and during these months I was attacked and the way I looked at myself was no longer great. I didn’t feel as I was a great individual anymore, I felt like saying “sorry I can’t speak good English, I have an accent” and my self-esteem just went all the way down. I was at a low point of my life in Australia although I’m an outgoing and optimistic person. One day I just couldn’t go to work, I was crying thinking “I am not good enough to be here”. I felt second class. I quit my job and it was hard to recover. I didn’t want to leave my house because I felt unwelcomed and as if I didn’t belong to this place.
Then one day I felt I must do something, I must go out to find people because there should be nice ones out there. I remembered my husband’s friend’s wife was working for the Welcome Dinner Project. I thought “hey, that must be good place to go because they must love migrants to have this program”, so I signed up myself and my husband and it was the best thing I ever did in Australia. I was still a bit terrified, so I took a deep breath and went for my first Dinner in November 2016 hosted by a German couple who have been living in Melbourne for the last 25 years. It was the most welcoming dinner I ever attended! We talked a lot about the richness of different culture with people from around the world. We got on together very well and then later that year on Christmas eve we got back together again with a bunch of people from the Dinner. We all became very good friends since then.
I’m very grateful for the WDP, as through this project I met very friendly people who helped me to see the good side of myself. Now I feel like “wow I’m great as migrant!’. I feel proud of myself again. My English is not perfect but that doesn’t matter, I have so much to offer. Australia is my home now and I plan to stay here. I signed up to become a WDP’s facilitator as I feel that now I can give back to society and help other migrants.
With gratitude to Valerie Chen – thank you for taking the courage to share this personal story with the world and your beautiful creative expression in the form of this incredible comic strip! – from all of us here at The Welcome Dinner Project
Valerie is now a Welcome Dinner facilitator, based in Melbourne, Victoria.
To view more of Valerie’s comics visit her website: valbocomics.com