Refugees, Asylum Seekers, and Migrants Break Bread Together at Australian Welcome Dinners
No one feels more at home than at the dinner table
There is something significant about sitting around a dinner table, sharing a meal and breaking bread that invites friendship and conversation. And that’s exactly what Australian project The Welcome Dinners aim to do. This scheme, founded by Penny Elsley, uses a dinner table as common ground to bring people from diverse backgrounds and cultures together.
This series of communal dining events was born out of a conversation Elsley had with a group of Sudanese migrants.
“One woman told me she’d been here for five years and no Australian had ever invited her over for a meal. Another woman had been here for 10 years, and it was the same story — and they wanted to receive that invite,” Elsley told SBS.
This conversation struck a chord with Elsley who began to realise just how isolating being a new migrant in a foreign country must be. In 2013 she launched The Welcome Dinners and since then, hundreds of potluck dinners have been hosted in Australian homes.
So how does it work? The dinners brings together about eight established Australians plus eight new Australians. People simply register their interest and are notified when a dinner has been organised in their local area. Then they are invited to come along to the host’s house, bring a dish, an open mind, and a smile. Migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, and international students are all welcome. Everyone brings a dish to share and two trained volunteer facilitators are on hand to support everyone on the day.
“The stories of food [discussed around the table] really breaks down barriers. Introducing your food is nowhere near as confrontational as opening up about yourself. But you actually find out a lot about people from the dish they bring,” Elsley told SBS reporter Candice Chung.
The facilitators also help with people’s initial shyness and nerves by offering activities and talking points. The project proudly states that it is about celebrating everyone’s commonality regardless of language, background or circumstance. And food is definitely something we all have in common.
Thanks to a crowdfunding campaign The Welcome Dinner Project have now managed to train 300 facilitators across the country and have had over 5,000 people participate in a potluck dinner.
The Welcome Dinner projects are a wonderful example of people welcoming newly arrived Australians into their communities, and homes. Something for us all to think about this World Refugee Day on 20 June.