The Australian cultural qualities of egalitarianism and mateship have taken centre stage in the response the global refugee crisis has provoked from everyday Australians like Thomas Hazeldine.
Mr Hazeldine volunteers a few hours a fortnight.
One in every 113 humans globally is now either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum, according to UNHCR, which has predicted those numbers could increase following a record annual leap in the number of forcibly displaced people.
Such figures have spurred new volunteers into action all over Australia, including Mr Hazeldine, who helps out at Settlement Services International’s (SSI) fortnightly Community Kitchen.
“Stemming from the global problems, particularly in the Middle East, and hearing about the likelihood of 12,000 additional Syrian refugees coming to Australia, I was motivated to volunteer,” he said.
For the past three months, Mr Hazeldine has given up several hours a fortnight to join a team of volunteers who help to prepare a meal for people seeking asylum living in the community.
“I get a sense of achievement from seeing all my fellow workers in the kitchen and I’m absolutely astonished that everything seems to happen. Because I’m not a cook, I’m surprised at the minimal amount of chaos that results in beautiful food each time, and I enjoy doing it,” he said.
“I’m just a simple person putting a bit back to help the community welcome people seeking asylum and refugees.”
For Mr Hazeldine, one of the most enjoyable aspects of volunteering is seeing the cooperation and comradery between everyone who gathers at Community Kitchen.
“It’s a very rewarding experience to see people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds – such a diversity of people – come together. It’s just great to see people getting on so well,” he said.
SSI CEO Violet Roumeliotis said the actions of volunteers like Mr Hazeldine had a profound effect on the lives of refugees and people seeking asylum.
“Volunteers provide the friendship and practical support that is so important for people adjusting to life in a new country, with different social norms, transport systems and vital services, such as healthcare and education,” she said.
“Volunteers play a crucial role in connecting new arrivals to the Australian community, and their contributions make a real difference to the lives of the people we support.
“Our volunteers are engineers, teachers, painters and more, and their efforts to mentor and support new arrivals helps them to overcome feelings of isolation and develop a positive sense of community in Australia.”
Ms Roumeliotis applauded the efforts of SSI volunteers and said their continued support helps to empower vulnerable individuals to realise their full potential in Australia.