Rainbows. Hearts. Smiles. These are the motifs that dominate my eldest daughter’s drawings and paintings.
Her little sister is keen on using textas to also draw smiles on the people in her drawings. The latest artistic creation is a giant headed mummy (different from me having a ‘big head’) And she doesn’t hesitate to scribble a smile on her own likeness – the picture is of the two of us walking hand in hand – happy to start our day.
We all know how kids use art as a way to make sense of their world.
But what sort of world are we living in when children who should be drawing rainbows and smiles instead draw themselves behind fences, with tear streaked faces, and with a weeping mother lying next to them? A hot, harsh sun beating down.
This particular picture has been drawn by a twelve year-old girl on Manus Island.
Another drawing shows a sad looking girl, clutching what could be a school bag, standing near a purple school, that has a ‘close’ sign across it. This young girl is also in detention on Manus Island.
What are we doing?
Don’t all children have the right to a childhood? Haven’t their parents fled persecution, war and terror in the hope of offering their kids the chance at a better life? Isn’t that something we all want as parents? The chance to help our kids have what we do not have?
You may say I’m a softy, a bleeding heart, a latte sipping, limousine lefty… Well I am. And I am ashamed that I can not do more for these vulnerable families.
I am ashamed that the UN says we are breaching our international human rights obligations in the way we treat asylum seekers. You may say – well that is not our problem, because we have plenty of kids in need here in Australia. Yes we do. That too is a crime.
But it doesn’t mean we just look at solving one problem at the expense of another. We are a part of the international community. We live in the land of plenty. We are free. We are lucky. And with that comes a responsibility.
“Here is our block. 3 people passed out and there is no doctor.”
According to the United Nations refugee agency, 221 people are being held on Manus Island – 34 are children. Just a fortnight ago, representatives from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spent three days on Manus Island.
Richard Towle, their spokesperson, says the government should consider moving the children from the island as the situation is damaging them. “Children have been sited far too close to single males, where there’s been disruption and noise and demonstrations”.
It’s also worth remembering what the living conditions are like. The UNHCR found it to be “harsh, hot, humid, damp and cramped”. And here I am worrying about my daughter staying cool at her very comfortable school during our hot start to the year.
And children are not only being kept in detention on Manus Island. The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, an health service and advocacy group, claims that 1953 children are in detention. Of that figure, 1221 kids are in facilities, and 732 are in community detention.
These are alarming numbers. Sometimes it can be easy to just look at them as numbers. But how about considering the figures in this way: that it is almost two thousand drawings, pictures drawn by almost two thousand children who see sadness, despair and chaos all around them.
We owe all children the opportunity to try to draw a rainbow. And at least the glimmer of a smile.A ‘happy’ painting by Jess’ daughter.
Disclaimer: Apart from being a latte-sipper I am an ambassador for welcometoaustralia.org.au. Join up and help us make Australia a place of welcome.
MORE STORIES BY JESSICA ROWE
*Jessica Rowe is a broadcaster and writer who, in a career spanning 20 years, has worked at all the major Australian commercial television networks. She is has written the best selling book, Love. Wisdom. Motherhood as well as co-authoring The Best of Times, the Worst of Times with her mother Penelope Rowe. Follow Jessica on Twitter @msjrowe or visit her website at www.jessicarowe.com.au.