On the 3rd day of Christmas, we meet Zaki from Afghanistan. After struggling to feel a sense of community during his first two years in Australia, he was able to find it through The Welcome Dinner Project.

A Feeling of Belonging

In 2014 I met Penny Elsley and that year attended one of the Welcome Dinners as a participant. Then I decided to take part by hosting a Welcome Lunch to be more exposed to an Australian culture. I talked to my friends, other boys with whom I shared a house, and everyone got really excited! I remember we woke up at 5.30am to clean the house and buy everything for the lunch. In Afghanistan it’s very common to host friends at home at least once a month, but we never had this opportunity here, in Sydney, to invite people and be hosts. Back at home guests are guests – hosts provide all the food and guests just sit and enjoy themselves. Also, it was a big deal for us, boys, to invite lots of older people and families to our shared house. So it was a really strange, but good feeling – seeing my friends so excited and happy to wake up so early (we usually slept until 11am on the weekends) and start preparing everything to meet people. We cooked some meat, but then my friends said “That wouldn’t be enough!” They were thinking that we need to feed everyone, we were afraid that guests won’t bring enough food. So we kept cooking lots of BBQ for the next couple of hours, it was smoke everywhere! We ended up cooking too much so that we were done with cooking for the whole next week. And then people start arriving. It was such a big change for us as we never hosted people in Australia before. We didn’t know who would come, how to welcome them and how to be with them. We were worried that we wouldn’t be able to fit everyone in and also my friends didn’t speak English very well. But everything went really well, everyone who came was very friendly. Australians, Japanese, Chinese guests, us, we all shared food and place, and were able to find something to talk about. Everyone felt that this was their house. Facilitators helped a lot in the lead up to the lunch and during as well. They guided the discussion and make sure that we knew what to prepare.

The special feeling that me and my friends had was the sense of belonging, that we belonged to this community and people who lived next to us. We felt alive again, we felt as now we have someone who we could invite again, people who cared about us. That was something we didn’t have for the last two years since we came to Australia. The strange thing was when we were sharing speech bubbles, one of the older Australian man told me as a host and my friends: “You’ve given me a sense of community”. So I guess we all found something during this lunch.

That was a very special day, we felt like “Wow, we are doing the same thing we would do back at home in Afghanistan, but not with just a family – with a bigger family, with a community”. It was amazing talking to people in our house. When someone comes to your place, you feel like they are your family, your relatives. You have that feeling. We felt we have a complete family now. This time we had kids in our house, different families and for the first time in Australia our place felt like home, not just a house where we ate and slept. We felt like a complete family again. When people left, me and my friends kept talking how we are feeling and how great the Welcome Lunch went. It was amazing. One of the Australian families who came then invited us to their place. They live next door and I’ve been in contact with them since then.

This is a wonderful platform to meet people who care about community, human beings, natural connections. We need these opportunities to bring humanity back. It doesn’t matter how we look and which language we speak, we are all humans.

Zaki Haidari

asylum seeker from Afghanistan

WDP participant & host

based in Canberra, Australian Capital Territory

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