The WRAP #89: Community and belonging

My name is Amona Hassab and I work as group work facilitator at a settlement service. I’m from a former refugee background. I was born in Egypt and my parents were born in Eritrea. My father passed away in the war when my mum was 5 months pregnant with me. When we migrated, my mum was only in her early 20s, I was 3 years old and my sister was 5.

Prior to the lockdowns, I had just given birth to my second baby. And I was in my 40 day ‘nifaas’ (or ‘breather’) period, which is a cultural practice of postpartum confinement care. I was lucky to have been surrounded with friends and family before social distancing became a thing.

I grew up in the Flemington high rises and despite the stigma attached to living there, there was a sense of community and belonging. Living in the high-rise estate definitely shaped me as the person I am today. Partly because many people from my community were living there so that sense of identity was powerful growing up.

Everyone knew each other, we all looked out for one another. When my mum ran errands she would take us to a neighbour’s home to babysit us. We’d play until mum got back and all the other kids would join. I no longer live in the towers, but it deeply saddens me that my children won’t ever experience the daily joy of being surrounded by kids of all backgrounds, playing and learning together. I often get asked why people live in the flats for so long and not privately rent. There is a sense of security in public housing: access to support networks, neighbours, friends and family are really important.

You feel safe and secure because everyone looks after each other. And this is a reflection of how the community dealt with the hard lock down that was imposed. Everyone just got together and were sustained purely by volunteers and local community supporters.

The community understood the health rationale for the hard lockdown but the way it was implemented with no notice or clear strategy was dehumanising. The deployment of 500 police officers was unnecessary. The police presence has retraumatised young people and their families. It really exposes classism and racism.

Residents just want to be dealt with in a dignified manner. They’re just as anxious and fearful about COVID 19. Community engagement and consultation are key. Even now, there are families who tell me they speak English well and are educated but have difficulty getting the right information. Regular communication with residents, easy access to multilingual health information and regular online social group sessions can really help make it easier for people living in isolation.

The pandemic has taught me not to be too hard on myself. I have two young children so I’m allowing myself to ‘just be’ whenever I feel that I’m not being productive. It’s hard to imagine life post-COVID but I hope things can be normal again. I have plans to travel with my family and enrol in a course.