Meet Panel Member Cindy James

Cindy James is a Panel Member for the Working for Justice Circle. We asked her to tell us a bit about herself and her work supporting refugees in Wagga Wagga. 

Currently I work for St Vincent de Paul as school coordinator which includes educating school students about poverty, refugees and asylum seekers and other social justice issues. Previously I worked as Youth, Children and Family Pastor in UCA Wagga. I have been blessed (and challenged) to work and volunteer with refugees for over 10 years now.

I grew up in a small rural mainly ‘white anglo’ conservative town, yet I adore and embrace cultural diversity. I don’t ‘get’ the wariness and fear that some people have about other cultures.  What’s not to love?  It perplexes me!

I also love Contextual and Liberation Theologies.

Share some stories that make you passionate about Justice.

Peeling Potatoes
The first time I met Mary* was at her house, about a fortnight after she had arrived in Australia.  We sat in her lounge room and talked about food.  With broken English, she described a ‘Peanut Paste’.  I said, “We called it ‘Peanut Butter’ in Australia”.  She said it was the best thing she’d discovered since arriving in Australia. All of her 8 children loved it.

8 children! I was impressed!  About a year earlier, I had given birth to my first son, in a hospital with midwives and medicines.  I had a strong sense of solidarity at that time with Mary as a ‘mum’.  She was, however, far braver and more capable than I.  Mary had delivered 8 babies in village huts and refugee camps, without midwives and medicines.

Mary and her family had fled violence in Sudan and had come to Australia as refugees.  They arrived in Wagga with the clothes on their back and one small suitcase between them. She told me how the children had not wanted to board the aeroplane for Australia.  The only aircraft they knew were ones that bombed villages and killed people.

As we sat chatting in her lounge room that day, she began peeling a big pot of potatoes with a knife.  It was blunt.  I found another knife and joined her.  It, too, was blunt.  I said to myself, ‘Tomorrow I will buy her a sharp vegie peeler’.  And I did.  It was a small but practical help.

That visit was 17 years ago.  It was my first visit to a group of people I would fall in love with – newly arrived refugee families in Wagga.

The Universal Language of Football
On Thursday Evenings I like to watch a local footy (soccer) club play in a “Summer Twilight Competition”.  It’s not the game of soccer, nor the fact that my husband is the Coach that draws me to the game.  I can’t help but release a big smile because my heart is deeply moved with joy for the players.

The game gets underway and I hear players calling to each other “Wadi! Wadi! Wadi!” (Come! Come! Come!).  Someone passes the ball then swears in Arabic or Acholi.  Another person rapidly fires off hand signals, pointing to their feet.  They shake their head saying, without any words, “I was unmarked, why didn’t you pass it to me?”.  Soon, the Striker (who we nickname ‘The Gazelle’) connects with the ball, lightly dances over it, keeping control, and kicks it across the goal for a set play.  A team mate easily slots it away, and “Goal!”.

I have just seen a group of teenage boys and men show that no matter how little English you have, everyone speaks football!  90% of the team are boys and men from refugee backgrounds, new arrivals to Wagga, from war-torn parts of the world.  For many of them, if they named themselves as ‘Nuba’ or ‘Yazidi’ in their home countries, it would put them in life threatening situations.  But here, in Wagga, Australia, they can slowly detox from persecution and unbelievable violence.  These spirited young men can spend any anxious energy on the football field instead.

The game I am watching is an exciting initiative called “Unity FC”, named partly because of the support by the local Uniting Church and the mix of cultures in the team under one ‘Unity’ banner.  Football helps newly arrived refugee families settle and find their feet in a regional centre, and, this contributes to book-ending the long-standing trauma refugees experience in home countries and opens pathways toward good mental health.

The game is over.  As the Coach walks back to his car with ball bags and gear, three players rush up to him.  “We carry this.  Not you.  You the Coach”.  And they take the load of bags from him.  “Hmm…”  I think to myself “I would employ blokes with that sort of ‘chip in’ attitude.”  We are lucky to have them as Aussies.

One hope I have for the Working for Justice Circle?  Give airplay to some good news stories.