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Sending books, letters to children in detention

Australians have brought joy to children in detention with books and letters.

Australians have brought joy to children in detention with books and letters.

“We were so glad when we heard that the books had brought the children such great joy”: June Factor from the Befriend a Child project, which has delivered books and letters to children in detention on Nauru.

PHOTO: dreamstime.com

By Emma Halgren

October 12 2015A project that “started around the kitchen table” just over a year ago has seen children in detention on Nauru receive books and letters from people all over Australia.

June Factor, convenor of Melbourne-based Befriend a Child in Detention, said the project grew out of a sense that there was a large group within the Australian community that was opposed to the government’s asylum seeker policies, but had not found ways to express that opposition.

“I think there is a section of the community that is very uneasy and uncomfortable about the treatment of asylum seekers, especially of children, but it’s not a section of the community that goes on marches or even signs petitions,” she said. “And I think it’s really important to stay connected with that section of the community.”

The Befriend a Child team decided to focus on sending books and letters to children on Nauru, inviting members of the public to contribute. They also wrote to publishers, booksellers and children’s writers, and “boxes and boxes of books arrived”, said June.

“Books symbolise a lot of what is lacking in the lives of people in these detention centres: civilisation, civility, community, learning, art and culture,” she said.

Each book included a letter from a member of the public, and many of the letter-writers also included a self-addressed envelope to encourage the recipient to write back.

In July, the team learned that the books and letters had been safely delivered to Nauru.

“We were so glad when we heard that the books had brought the children such great joy, and the letter in each book touched children and adults alike deeply, because it helped them feel that they were not forgotten.”

Since then, some of the children on Nauru have written back to their young Australian pen pals — a real connection has been made.

The project is ongoing, and books are continuing to arrive from all over the country. The Brotherhood of St Laurence has donated space in Melbourne to support the project, housing two volunteers, computers, and book donations as they arrive.

The team’s next goal is to send consignments of books and letters to all detention centres in Australia, and another batch to Nauru. The members have also started receiving invitations to speak in schools
about the project.

“It’s impossible to tolerate the treatment of asylum seekers really – it’s outrageous in every sense,” said June. “So you have to do something about it.”

See www.befriendachild.com or email project@befriendachild.com