Australia’s Sierra Leonean community offers thanks

In Sunday church, it is the sound of gratitude.

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It is the sound of Adelaide’s Sierra Leonean community giving thanks for all their new country has given them.

The chairwoman of the Sierra Leone Community of South Australia, Constance Jones, says she hopes their message will be heard by all Australians.

“We want them to recognise that we’re here to help, and to support, also. Not only to take from them, but also to give back to the community.”

In Friday mosque, it is a different religion, the same message.

Muslim members of the Sierra Leonean community are also giving thanks, likewise opening their hearts and their wallets to show their sincerity.

Imam Imdiaz Naveed Ahmed of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Mosque says he is very happy to support the cause.

“This is our training. Wherever we go, we have to help the communities, we have to help the humanity.”

Constance Jones says the community wanted to support Aboriginal Australians in particular.

“We wanted to give back to the land. That was the first thing we all decided, that we were going to give back to the Australian government but give back specifically to the Aboriginal people, because this is their land and we’ve come here and we haven’t done anything for them.”

Funds raised will go to the Fred Hollows Foundation, which works in Indigenous communities across Australia to restore eyesight.

Foundation chief executive Brian Doolan says the donation has come as a surprise.

“Look, it was a great surprise, and what a fantastic surprise, to be supported by these new Australians who have decided to adopt probably one of the most Australian charities in the Fred Hollows Foundation. It was an absolute delight.”

Sierra Leone was torn apart by 11 years of civil war, which ended in 2001.

About 2 million people, one-third of the country’s population, were displaced from their homes.

About 3,000 have since settled in Australia under the humanitarian program.

Fashion designer Abdul Rahman Sazzoh was among those forced to leave.

“Then I fled for my life, because I was tied up, they looted my school, they do whatsoever they wanted to do. But thanks me to the Almighty God, today, I’m here.”

Constance Jones says the community still faces many barriers to social inclusion in Australia and hopes to work with the government to resolve them.

“I mean, the community has come a long way. You know, they’ve been through a lot of trauma, they’ve come here as refugees, and they’ve struggled so much.”

But, she adds, there is much more to be done.

“We have a lot of people suffering in their homes. They don’t have affordable homes, they’re losing their families, we have people going through domestic violence … There are so many issues that the Sierra Leone community is struggling from, that we’re hoping that these new executives, and me as a chairperson, would help to restore those issues, so that the Sierra Leonean people can be comfortable and, at the same time, while they’re embracing their culture, they embrace the Australian culture also.”

Constance Jones says she hopes such actions will create pathways to stronger inclusion.

Meanwhile, there are plans for the thanksgiving service to become an annual event.