Thursday, September 21, 2017

Compassionate Conversations: The Continuing Story of BHALT

The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe started out as a successful theatre production in 2011, developed by Australian director Ros Horin. The stage performance featured four women from four African countries telling the true stories of their experiences of sexual violence. A film about the making of the stage show premiered in 2016.

The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe posterWhile the theatre performance highlighted the women’s experiences in Africa, the film shows how sharing their stories was ultimately healing for them. The women’s stories resonated with many who work with diaspora communities, and Creators of Peace, an IofC programme, took out a licence for five community screenings around Australia in 2017.

On a cold, wet May night in Adelaide, 100 people turned out to the first of these screenings. South Sudan was in the grip of famine exacerbated by the long-running civil conflict, and many displaced people are still in camps in Uganda. The local Creators of Peace network used the occasion as a fundraiser and $5,000 was raised, which is contributing towards sending containers of urgently-needed supplies to the South Sudanese people.

More than that, the film opened a window for viewers into the lives of women survivors of conflict, enabling audiences to empathize with the courage of the protagonists and the hurdles that they face in trying to pursue ‘normal’ lives in Australian suburbs.

‘The raw emotions of these stories of abuse of every sort are disturbing,’ commented Creators of Peace organizer Bek Brown. ‘But the women’s journey through their darkness is inspiring and hope-giving.’

Barbara Lawler, Brisbane-based community organizer with IofC Australia, agreed, saying. ‘One of the most moving parts of the film was when the teenage son of the Eritrean co-star told how proud he was of his mother, how important it was for him to know what his mother went through, to appreciate her strength to overcome, and that he felt her story should be shared with the whole world.’

With friends in the IofC network, Barbara organized for Rosemary Kariuki-Fyfe, another of the film’s co-stars, to travel from Sydney to screenings in Melbourne, Gold Coast, and Brisbane. Screenings took place in July at the IofC community house in Melbourne, the Twin Towns Uniting Church in Gold Coast, and the Palace Centro in Brisbane. Rosemary, who works in community policing in New South Wales, had Q&A with audiences after each screening. She told her own story of personal change through her involvement with Creators of Peace, a network of women who host neighbourhood groups, often in their own homes, to work through a curriculum designed to deepen their friendships and explore their own peace-building capacities.

After the Brisbane screening, an African community leader posted her comments to Facebook: ‘What an amazing evening with my sister Rosemary Kariuki…Through the art of theatre we watched these remarkable women weaving through the emotions of trauma and their journey confronting the hidden layers of pain to triumph in spirit by owning their story. They lifted the veil of silence on the impact of sexual abuse. It was incredible to see many faces of African-Australian women whom I know from New South Wales. Bravo everyone. You shine brightly.’

Yarrie & YordieAudiences’ warm enthusiasm for the film and its co-stars has led Barbara to wonder, ‘Could this mark a fresh approach to the way we welcome and work with refugees and asylum seekers to Australia?’

The filmmakers think so. On the film website, they urge organizers to ‘help create a more compassionate conversation about refugees and violence against women,’ and they express hope that the project will be ‘a catalyst for open dialogue about violence in communities all over the world.’ - Delia Paul

  • The next screening of The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe will be on 30 September 2017 at the Centre for Interfaith and Cultural Dialogue, Griffith University, Brisbane.Yarrie Bangura, another co-star of the film who is also involved in Creators of Peace, will fly from Sydney for Q&A. For more information, contact barbara.lawler@iofc.org

  • For information about Creators of Peace, contact manu.granados@iofc.org