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Refugees or “disadvantaged people” weren’t new terms for me. Growing up in India, I was exposed to families in such vulnerable states. Throughout my childhood, I was well aware of people who were not living in the best circumstances.

There were multiple times I heard the word “refugee” on T.V but didn’t make much sense of it. My young mind was convinced that refugees were a threat to our country due to the media influencing me to think of them in a certain way. Posters of young kids. Weak, depressed and haggard.

But not too long ago, I attended an Urban Camp  conducted by the Brotherhood of St Laurence. This not-for-profit organization- helps new refugees settle in our country and provides them with the necessities of life. We met families that had fled their countries or had a tough background. We helped young kids with their homework and prepared breakfast for elders.

Growing up in such a privileged house-hold, I had a very harsh perception of refugees and was quite nervous about interacting with them. But the people I met at the camp were the exact opposite. They were provided a housing complex  and their kids attended a proper school nearby. During the camp, I had forgotten that they were ‘refugees’ but rather people who immigrated to another country, like my family and I had done eight years ago. Their lives were very similar to ours.

I remember seeing some people who carried massive bags that contained all their belongings and often jumped to conclusions. When in fact, they weren’t sure of where they would be spending the night. They had to carry all their belongings with them in case they decided to stay overnight on the streets or someone’s  home. It never really occurred to me how brutal some people’s lives can be. Their parents were constantly working to earn money just so they can provide enough for their family. Our guide had told us that wealth was defined by the number of things you carry when you leave the house. For example, if you carry only your wallet or a purse with money and other smaller necessities you would be considered a person of a higher class, but if you had to carry all your belongings and other necessities you would be considered to be part of the lower class.

Before I met some of the families living in this condition, I always thought that they would be miserable or mournful due to the complications that they were facing. However, they were content with their lives and enjoyed every small thing they were given. It made me realize that I took many things in my life for granted.

The kids around us were always so happy and adored our company. We constantly played with them and offered them piggyback rides, even though our backs would ache at the end of the day. But we felt rather gratified when we made them smile.

Siya is an enthusiastic 16 year old from Australia who is currently in Year 10 at Melbourne Girls Grammar School, Melbourne. She loves playing the violin, basketball and catching up on sleep; can cook a mean pasta and spends her free time watching Bollywood movies.

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