3 silo snippets of conversations of conflicting ideas and theories on child refugees, the National Disability Insurance Scheme and international development. I want to raise questions of how our silos in community development, social work and activism reinforce power, privilege and social inequality.
Alma Golding, Untitled, 1975, scanned copy of photo, 12.5×17.5cm.
Dominic, 4 months after arriving in Australia in 1975, after the fall of Saigon to Communist forces.
Dominic Golding, Child orphan: agent orange, 2015, photo, 12.5×17.5cm
Dominic Golding Saigon River in district 1, 2006, photo, 12.5×17.5cm
Dom is a Vietnamese-Australian adoptee walking in the Melbourne CBD when a young female fundraiser from Save the Children calls him over to talk to about their latest campaign #lethemin.
KYLE: Hi my name is Kyle, have you heard about our campaign to get children out of detention. Greens, Get Up, Red Cross, Amnesty International, Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Labor for refugees. Where are you from? When did you come to Australia?
DOM: April 14, 1975. Am I a refugee, or migrant?
KYLE: You can’t be a refugee. You came before the Vietnamese boat people, wasn’t it in the 1980s?
DOM: The first boat people to hit our shores came in 1979. So tell me. Who is a refugee? A boat person? A plane baby like me? A plane adult? A humanitarian entrant? An adult in detention? A person who crosses the US Canadian border on foot? A Hispanic who crosses the US Mexican border on foot? A person from a displaced persons camp. Who dictates who is a refugee?
KYLE: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
DOM: No, we do.
DOM: Do you think Immigration Minister Peter Dutton would airlift child orphans from Syria without a visa? That’s how I got here without a visa. That makes me an illegal.
KYLE: We have been lobbying to get children out of detention. They live in horrid conditions, disease, tropical heat, they’re suffering from trauma and abuse, not eating, thinking of suicide, or seeing their parents die at sea.
DOM: Do you realise what you just described?
KYLE: I’m sorry? I was there. On Naru.
DOM: You just described how white nurses explained Vietnamese orphanages.
KYLE: But you are here, adopted you said. You’re lucky. You’ve got good family, good education, you’re grateful for having a forever family. We like to see if you can help us get the children out, like they got you out of Vietnam.
DOM: Save the children was how the government and NGOs said in 1972. Save the children on Manus Island and Naru. What about the adult asylum seekers?
KYLE: Still in detention the government won’t let them out.
DOM: You realise you just advocated forced removal of children from their families, by saying #letthemin?
KYLE: No, no, no… not at all! Families must stay TOGETHER.
DOM: Okay, so you want the children out but not the adults? Who will stay indefinitely in detention.
KYLE: We want the children to have what you have, a new life in a new world to bring up families in rural Australia, to get jobs, to grow the townships and build the economy.
DOM: Says who?
KYLE: Greens, Get Up, Red Cross, Amnesty International, ASRC, Labor for Refugees and Julian Burnside.
DOM: Ever lived in the country?
KYLE: No, but for 3 dollars a day we can save the children, give them a better life.
DOM: It costs me more than 3 dollars a day for a cup of coffee to overcome racism and forced assimilation.
*Dom winks and walks off.*
At a disability respite office lunchroom Helen and Dom are two support workers discussing the merits of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
DOM: Who really has choice, if one is autistic, nonverbal, and has limited skills and just wants to stare at the passing traffic? Is it the parents’ choice?
HELEN: Parents formed disability rights advocacy from the 1960s, this led to shutting down Kew Cottages. Institution is not such a bad thing given that they are participating in the community.
DOM: I get it. *Munching on a sandwich*.
HELEN: Kew Cottages were hell. No-one had any agency. The agency was the State. People were left to rot.
DOM: So Individual Support Packages was a move from the institution to being in the community?
HELEN: Yes. The community builds the community for the disabled, the infirm, the impaired, mentally retarded. The NDIS is taking the community model to the individual. Thus, the client directs the funding not the State. *Eating a salad*.
DOM: Now we are expecting these community centers to become businesses?
HELEN: Precisely, to respond to individual client needs. It’s called wait for it… Consumer Directed Care.
DOM: So now we carers are requiring ABNs, to be individual contractors to people with disabilities-with personalised flyers and business cards. Whilst the agency has to support an autistic, non-verbal client, has limited skills and just wants to stare at the passing traffic needs to ensure he feels like he has ownership of the agency.
HELEN: The agency is his agency. He can walk out if he does not like this service.
DOM: Or the parents can cancel the contract?
HELEN: They know their child; they can say what their child wants and needs.
DOM: But half of these clients spent a lifetime in Kew Cottages. How is this client centered?
HELEN: The parents or guardian is the client.
DOM: So what’s the difference between the states giving money to the agency, versus the state giving them money to give to the agency?
HELEN: It means we need to respond directly to the client’s needs and build a service to cater to those needs.
DOM: An autistic, non verbal consumer who has limited skills and just wants to stare at the passing traffic?
HELEN: Exactly, let’s head back into the program.
A debate between two students in a Social Work class, with the tutor looking on. Michelle is a young white female student and Dom is a Vietnamese-Australian in his mid forties. They have just finished watching a video on community arts development project in Vietnam working with disadvantaged children. The tutor asks students to comment on the film.
MICHELLE: You can’t say the children in the video have no rights.
DOM: I’m not. I’ve lived there, I’ve seen it.
TUTOR: Dom and Michelle let’s have a calm conversation here, no one is speaking on behalf of the children.
MICHELLE: Yes, you are. You sound like a know it all.
DOM: I’ve worked with youth, aged, disabilities and refugees, in four different jobs, in my sixteen years in the community welfare.
MICHELLE: Impossible! No way you could’ve worked with all these people.
DOM: Hang on, are you disagreeing with me cos you think watching a video of a white composer getting poor Vietnamese children to make classical instruments out of river and to set up an orchestral show is a good thing?
MICHELLE: Yes, they are being creative in getting them out of poverty.
DOM: Poverty? Look, the teacher asks us to examine costs of community work. Everything has a cost, The tutor said it himself.
MICHELLE: I see no cost: everyone gains. They are enriched, they learn new skills, being creative. They are away from swimming in a toxic river. They could go on to play at a conservatorium in France or go to New York. What costs could there be?
DOM: A kid forced to live off the Saigon river in Quang Nam? Time is one cost, the time spent looking for the perfect metal pipes for a “flute”, time in making the instrument, time to learn to play the improvised instrument, time to do rehearsals with the classical White expert from France. This is time away from finding material goods to help the family earn a little to buy food for the family, even finding food itself.
TUTOR: Dom and Michelle have you considered the cultural costs?
MICHELLE: Cultural costs?
DOM: Yes, cultural costs… have you worked in community development?
MICHELLE: I’ve seen a lot of Multicultural festivals where African kids are doing hip hop. Personal expression is a good thing.
DOM: It is. But how is learning Chopin going to help alleviate poverty? They have their own culture and music tradition. Granted it’ll be a fun six month program but what next after the French guy flies home?
MICHELLE: They could make their own concerts, and teach others to make instruments to sell.
DOM: Possible, and good intentions can have their rewards.
MICHELLE: The composer has given the children an opportunity to have dreams, and believe other possibilities are out there.
DOM: Sure, but will it get these children’s families away from the river? Into better housing, secure safe employment and better health outcomes?
MICHELLE: It’s better than letting them remain dependent and hopeless and at risk of dying of diseases from the toxic rubbish.
MICHELLE: Are you… being sarcastic?
TUTOR: Well, that was a good discussion; any questions on the readings for next week on homelessness and housing?
Dominic Hong Duc Golding came in a box, ‘Operation Babylift’ one of some 300 plus children and babies evacuated from orphanages in South Vietnam. In...