Initiatives of Change Australia (IofCA) completed its two-year partnership with the Southern Migrant and Refugee Centre in Dandenong, Victoria, with an online session of food and art on 20 August. The event highlighted how far Creators of Peace has come in adapting Peace Circles to an online format—and the need for more peace, as politics and the global pandemic take their toll.
Waiting for the end of COVID
Creators of Peace Circles are events that bring small groups of women together, often in their own homes, work or study venues. The Circles provide a space for story sharing, in which each participant’s experience is heard and valued. A Circle usually ends with a final session of reflection that affirms the new friendships built among participants. Food and fun feature high on the agenda!
With Creators of Peace Southeast, the two-year project bringing Peace Circles to migrant and refugee women in Melbourne’s southeastern suburbs, Circles adapted to take place online. While the project team experienced challenges in adapting Creators of Peace content to a virtual space, there were also rewards. For example, women with transport difficulties were able to take part for the first time.
As each COVID lockdown eased in Melbourne, the project team hoped that the last group could meet in person. However, three attempts to meet in person were thwarted by the return of COVID restrictions.
‘We realised, in the end, that we would need to meet online again one last time,’ said Alex Childs, Creators of Peace coordinator in Melbourne.
The group finally convened online on Friday 20 August on Zoom for a final session together.
Art and hearts
Prior to the day, the project team sent each participant a carefully assembled kit of art materials. On the day of the event, each participant also received a voucher for a takeaway meal they could enjoy, in lieu of a shared dinner. Meeting on Zoom, they went through a meditation exercise, guided by art therapist Negin Sadeghian.
Negin, who speaks Farsi, invited participants to think of a place, real or imaginary, in which they felt safe. Using the art materials, each person then visualised this place on paper.
“Participants came up with some beautiful pieces,” said Alex. “Predominant themes in the drawings included nature, trees, and spaces that evoked special memories—one of these was a cubby house! Another recalled her relationship with her grandfather, and the home where they lived in Afghanistan.”
De-stressing with peers
The online Peace Circle came at a time of high emotion and stress for many participants.
The US military withdrawal from Afghanistan was taking place, and the rolling lockdowns in Melbourne meant that many women faced additional demands to manage child care and home schooling. Participants in Creators of Peace Southeast, during the two-year project, had backgrounds in conflict zones around the world, among them Myanmar and former Yugoslavia.
The gathering gave women a safe space to speak about their current concerns for family trapped in conflict zones, and the stresses of day-to-day life.
‘Discussions over dinner that evening included the crises that we are all facing such as climate change, social justice issues, the ongoing lockdown in Melbourne, and the common stresses we were all feeling,’ said Alex Childs, Creators of Peace Coordinator at IofC Australia. ‘It was good to gather and share our thoughts as a group.’
While the Creators of Peace Southeast project has concluded, IofC Australia continues to work with migrants, refugees, and diaspora networks in Australia. The network is currently developing a program in collaboration with the Afghan-Australian Initiative, a community group in Melbourne, to develop a new women’s project, Tailoring Tales. The activities will build participants’ job skills, while providing space for story sharing and reducing social isolation among Hazara women from the Afghan community. You can support it here.