Mazel tov to Jacky Lipson

Recipient of the Ron Castan Young Humanitarian Award 2013

jackyJacky attended Gardenvale primary school, and completed  VCE at Wesley college in 2005. Throughout high school she was involved in the Jewish youth movement Hineni, and after graduating spent a year in Israel where she volunteered in schools, community centres, entertaining children and  teaching English. In 2010 Jacky graduated with a  physiotherapy degree and currently works in the area of  paediatric rehabilitation.

In 2009, after finishing her leadership involvement with Hineni Jacky started volunteering with JAA twice with the  Indigenous Partnerships ‘Derech Eretz’ program. Since then Jacky has implemented an ‘Allied health close the gap’ committee at her workplace: running events, raising  awareness and advertising the issue of Indigenous health while also supporting the existing Aboriginal Health Liaison team.

In early 2010, as a JAA volunteer, she became a mentor for a pilot program aimed at helping members of the Sudanese community find employment. The program soon evolved to become LINKS (Learn, Integrate, Network,  Knowledge and Socialise) due to the growing influx of refugees and asylum seekers in the area. In just over a year, LINKS has grown substantially and runs conversation and English learning sessions. The students, whose numbers can be counted at anywhere between 25 and 40 each week, with new faces all the time, herald from many different backgrounds and walks of life. Many are refugees and asylum seekers. The range of nationalities includes  Afghanistan, Iran, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, China and many more. There are 12 volunteers and well over 100 students have attended classes.

Ron Castan Young Humanitarian Award acceptance speech, Jacky Lipson

I would like to start off by expressing my gratitude to Jewish Aid Australia and the Castan family, for launching these awards, providing encouragement and inspiration to myself and others to engage in humanitarian issues. It is an honour to receive an award in the name of the late Ron Castan, someone who has really made a difference and contributed so much to our society and community. I am truly overwhelmed and incredibly grateful.

To Mel and Joel, my two dear friends who nominated me for this award, I really can’t thank-you enough, you’re both extraordinary people and its such a privilege to have you by my side supporting me every step of the way.

Thank-you to my family and all my friends for being a constant support to me. One really is a product of one’s surroundings, and I am absolutely blessed to be surrounded by brilliant people, always encouraging me to think, reflect, do and achieve. Not only are you all generally just brilliant, but you have all been a physical part of everything that I have done, and I honestly wouldn’t have been able to do any of it without you, so thank you!

Ever since I was about 12 or 13, when I first set foot in a Jewish youth movement meeting, I have been involved in extra curricular community activities. I have to acknowledge the 11 years I spent as part of the Hineni youth movement. They were so critical in planting and cultivating the seed of humanitarian values, and my passion just grew from there. From such a young age, Hineni gave me the opportunity to learn and develop my leadership skills (among other things) that have been invaluable to all aspects of my life, particularly when working on other community projects as well as the development of my own.

Jewish Aid has also played an instrumental role in facilitating my desire to engage in humanitarian issues. Participating in the Derech Eretz program running school holiday programs for Indigenous children, has been a huge highlight from the past few years, and has really inspired me to actively advocate for Indigenous health equality in my workplace.

This brings me to my current project and passion. 4 years ago it began with myself and other Jewish Aid volunteers as a one-on-one mentoring program for the Sudanese community.

The program struggled in its early days with poor attendance. Sometimes we would wait in the library with no-one to show up. Until one day, a man named Raza approached me curious as to what we did each week, and asked if he could join us.

Raza was an Afghani Asylum Seeker at that point on a bridging visa, living in his friends home and borrowing money from him to send to his family back in Pakistan. Raza was a teacher at a women’s school in Kabul. Many times they were raided by the Taliban and had to use disguises in order not to reveal their true purpose. Luckily for Raza, he was informed of a deadly raid in enough time to escape. He and his family moved to Pakistan. Raza was also secretly working for a political party, opposing the Taliban with a strong emphasis on women’s rights. Due to his involvement with this group and the nature of his job, he was wanted by the Taliban. He was assisted by the political party to escape to Australia in March 2011, leaving his family behind. We met him in the library 1 month later.

So Raza came, week in and week out, sometimes it was just him and other times his friends would join us. We were eventually approached by one of the library staff inquiring about our sessions (sometimes it got rowdy so you really couldn’t miss us!), she asked if we had capacity to help out others, as she has been trying to set up a conversation class but struggling with the increasing numbers of people in need.

From then on the wheels started turning and haven’t stopped. We now are our own independent group called LINKS. We stand for Learn Integrate Network Knowledge and Socialise, we run weekly English conversation classes in Dandenong library open to anyone, mostly asylum seekers and refugees. Our numbers have exploded, with over 15 volunteers, an average of 30 participants a week, and over 70 that have walked through our doors since we started recording.

We spend almost two hours talking, listening, learning and laughing together. For some, the class provides much needed English learning and support, and for others it’s a chance to meet new people, learn their stories and ask questions.

Without delving into the politics of this highly contentious issue, it is absolutely unquestionable that this population are in desperate need of help, support, love and generosity.
The simplicity of LINKS is beautiful. You don’t need to be a teacher, a doctor, a lawyer, an academic. All you need is to be there with the ability to have a chat with someone. Most of our participants don’t have the opportunity to talk openly and honestly with an Australian peer. Questions like ‘is it ok to drink and drive?’ are brought up regularly, the implications of which could be life-saving. We have the ability to connect and build real relationships with these people in a true and organic way, it’s incredibly meaningful for both parties, and sometimes I wonder who gets more out of the exchange!

I had hoped that Raza could be here tonight, as the catalyst for the proliferation of LINKS. Unfortunately he couldn’t, but fortunately it is because he is working. He now works at target with a relatively steady income, he has attained his protection visa and is now in the process of applying for his family to come and join him. This is just one of the many incredible, inspiring, and often tragic stories of the beautiful people we have the privilege to meet with each week.

I don’t know where I’ll be and I don’t know where LINKS will be in the future. There are so many exciting possibilities. With a growing need, an extraordinary group of volunteers, and the support and recognition of organizations and people such as JAA and the Castan family, who knows where we could go! So thank you all again for your incredible support.

To quote Eli Wiesel:

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And, the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference Because of indifference one dies before one actually dies”.

I am fiercely committed to my humanitarian values, and I believe that doing something good, can be as easy as just having a conversation with someone, and who knows you could end up changing that persons world. I hope that these awards provide inspiration and motivation for others, young and old, to quit indifference and engage. The world really is our oyster (kosher or not), and all we need to do is grab it.