Settlement Services International (SSI) has expressed its enormous appreciation to Belvoir St Theatre for raising $29,000 for SSI’s Refugee Education Scholarships.
SSI visited Belvoir St Theatre to thank Belvoir and the cast and crew of Sami in Paradise for their support of SSI Refugee Scholarships.
During the world premiere season of Sami in Paradise, every performance was dedicated to raising funds to help refugees minimise financial barriers in attending high school, vocational training, university, or having their skills and qualifications recognised.
Naushin Rahman, SSI’s Partnerships and Fundraising Manager, said, “We are so grateful to the Sami in Paradise audiences for their generous donations, to the cast and crew for their passion and commitment to the cause, and to Belvoir for coming up with an innovative way to involve its community in supporting refugees as they find their feet in their new home.”
Sami In Paradise is Nikolai Erdman’s subversive play The Suicide, adapted and contemporised by director Eamon Flack and the company of actors to become a madcap dark comedy with a subtle dose of pathos.
Set in a refugee camp that is home to a man at the end of his tether, it seeks to cut through polarising debates about refugees.
Mr Flack said, “The play is about the idea that no human is better than any other human, and even if you are robbed of all the basics of your life and all of your dignity, it doesn’t mean you are less than anyone else. This isn’t a play about other people and other places, it’s a play for anyone who wakes up in the middle of the night feeling a bit worried about the future.”
Among the cast, featuring Yalin Ozucelik, were Mandela Mathia and Hazem Shammas — who after each performance called out for audience support for the scholarships.
Mr Shammas recalled how Sami in Paradise led to a surprising reunion with Mr Mathia.
“About 10 years ago I was involved in some workshops for young refugees and new migrants out at Blacktown, in western Sydney,” he said.
“The workshops were held by Playwriting Australia to give kids, especially these particular kids, an opportunity in developing drama skills, playwriting and skills in theatre.
“One of the kids there was a 15-year-old Mandela, who I think had just arrived in Sydney and was starting his new life. So we spent the week and he wrote a scene that was good enough to be included in the following year’s Playwriting festival.
“So on the first day of rehearsal for Sami in Paradise, Mandela comes up to me and says, ‘I know you’ and I think ‘What, have I done something wrong?’
“I didn't recognise him of course 10 years on.
“Then he reminds me that years ago he had done that workshop and that I'd played his dad in a scene he wrote. And I think, Wow! I was blown away.
“Now here he is. He’s just graduated from Nida and we’re about to share the stage on his first professional gig.
“I was so humbled and inspired that I always want to tell this story. Because throughout the project we teamed up with an organisation like SSI to promote and support the opportunity-building experiences that we hope could continue to encourage new Australians.
“And here, with Mandela and I, we’ve got this kind of full circle coming together. Like I would never have thought back then one of those kids was going to end up doing what we do and here we are.
“And he’s now given his work to do the same thing for someone else. It’s great and something that I think we should all be proud of.”