Warm welcome - refugees visit the Manning on a friendship field trip

TAREE and Wingham opened its doors to a group of central African humanitarian refugees who visited over the weekend as part of the Friendship field trip.

The 24 visitors who originated from the one region in Africa which included the Congo, Rwanda and Burundi, were treated to the Manning Valley’s warmest hospitality and experienced the best parts of life in a rural area.

Many of the visitors, since living in Australia, have only experienced life in the city.

The idea of having the field trip came from the involvement of two leaders from Great Lakes Agency for Peace and Development (GLAPD) when they were in the Manning Valley for Refugee Week activities.

“They enjoyed themselves so much, they asked if we might organise for other friends and family members to get a look at the area,” trip coordinator Lucy Hobgood-Brown said.

The visitors were accommodated in the homes of Rotarians and other community members which gave the refugees an inside view of a rural town lifestyle.

Wingham Rotary, which already made connections with the African group after GLAPD director Theophile Elongo spoke at a recent meeting, again offered its hospitality with a quintessential Australian barbecue at the Masonic Lodge featuring traditional African dancing and music.

A busy schedule was organised for the weekend which included a trip to Rotary president, Robert Walsh and wife Mavis’s dairy farm.

They also enjoyed a look into the area’s history with a tour through Wingham museum.

Manning Valley Historical Society organised two French speaking guides to show the visitors through. Many were fascinated by the farm machinery display and four-year-old Schilo Mutaga enjoyed playing in the replica school room exhibit.

The group discovered the Rotary Men’s Shed, the spinners and weavers group’s display shed and explored the farmers markets which were held at the Wingham Showground on Saturday.

“The Rotarians were very supportive and kind. I think the group were touched by the hospitality and kindness of everyone,” Lucy said.

A trip to Old Bar to have a barbecue with Taree North Rotary was the first time some of the refugees had seen the ocean.

Anke and her husband Peter Peeters hosted Dr Nadine Shema and her son Schilo at their home. The couple shared a unique link with Nadine as they had spent time in Kenya and Sudan when Peter was working for ‘Doctors without Borders’.

“Nadine was really lovely. She has been in Australia for a year and a half and is trying to establish networks between the African and Australian community. It was lovely to have her and her son stay. It was nice to exchange ideas on how the community works, its challenges and how we can work together to benefit everyone,” Anke said.

Lucy said the hospitality shown by the Wingham community throughout their stay was special.

“They were dazzled by Wingham. They couldn’t believe how kind everyone was,” she said.

“Everyone talked the whole way back to Sydney and two members of the group are seriously considering a move to the area.”

This would be followed up and coordinated with the Manning’s migrant support worker as well as support agencies in Sydney, said Lucy.

“However first and foremost the visit was a chance to have some rest and relaxation and experience rural NSW.”

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