Along with the excitement and promise of a new country, migrants from different nations are often faced with similar issues; disruption to family life, a nagging sense of uprootedness and dislocation, challenges in dealing with a new infrastructure and bureaucracy, cultural codes and cues that are not documented and can only be discovered by engaging in daily social life.
One of the keys to settling in this new country is to be willing to ask for help. Here in Australia, networks to support South African migrants, such as Sabona, are extremely useful. Advice for newcomers on the practicalities of migration is made available, and their events provide us the opportunity to hear the music of our language and accents, to feel the familiar resonance of our fellow Africans, to initiate new relationships and establish our community.
It is important that we take steps to connect to our fellow human beings in what can be challenging times. When the transition is difficult, an individual might feel as if they have no one to turn to with their heartbreak, that they don’t want to burden their family, and begin to feel depressed. The tendency might then be to withdraw from life, or to turn to alcohol and/or substances in an effort to feel something other than isolated and lost. These are indicators that there is a problem! The first step then, is acknowledgement.
The next step is to recognize that help is available. Australia is a country of considerable resources. Free counseling services such as Lifeline are available for people in difficulty or crisis. Alternatively, organizations such as Anglicare, Uniting Care, neighborhood houses
and community health centers offer counseling. Private practitioners like myself and other professionals featured in Sabona are also available to help with transitions. When faced with significant existential issues, it is important to acknowledge that we are all just human, and feelings of sadness, longing, confusion or loss are valid.
We Southern Africans bring a lot of trauma with us to Australia, and it is vital to acknowledge that that trauma affects not only our lives, but our children’s and others in our sphere. Seeking support or assistance can enable one to embrace the life we came here to live. Challenges which are often kept safely in the privacy of hearts can relate to connection to the land, familiar smells, sounds, sights and textures of the place of our birth. These more subtle memories can be suffused with yearning that leans into sadness around what we may have lost as a result of our choice to relocate. When we honor these memories and longings as fundamental to our sense of self, and as the building blocks of our character, creativity and abilities, we can better use the depth of our emotions to ground us in our sense of belonging in this world, wherever we are.
A workshop such as Scatterlings: South Africans in Australia, offers a space for us to reflect deeply on who we are, where we come from, and what this makes us. We come from a beautiful, complex and deeply traumatized society; to commune with each other in an attitude of respect and empathy. Support can be deeply healing, enabling us to reconnect to the essence of who we really are and the truth that we not only belong, but each have a unique place and purpose.