The Nourish (Spring) Talk about ‘Food and Hope’ in the parish hall of St Canice’s on October 22 was a wonderful community-building event.

The sold-out evening compered by foodie extraordinaire Joanna Savill provided for easy conversation with two refugees in particular, who came to Australia with nothing, and demonstrated how they not only ‘made it’ in this their adopted land as chefs, but also built on these efforts to engage and provide hope for other new arrivals.

Community hero Haitham Jaiju, an ex-diplomat from Iraq, shared stories of how he developed the Tuck Shop at the Fairfield High School in Sydney’s west, and how it grew to involve fifty other new arrivals who are working in different roles there today. These activities foster ‘connection’ that’s so important for people adapting to a new land.

Community hero Haitham Jaiju, foodie extraordinaire Joanna Savill and Miss Chu

Community hero Haitham Jaiju, foodie extraordinaire Joanna Savill and Miss Chu

“Food connects you back to your mother, your traditions. So we started cooking schools where traumatized people would attend, and finally be moved to get involved and share innate experiences from their own childhood. Help them to re-engage in society again”, he said.

Food is a conduit to getting to know people; it lets you sit around a table and have a conversation – ‘here’s a rice paper roll; talk to me’, tells the queen of rice paper rolls, Vietnamese Miss Chu, “food is a great way to get people to unwind – everything in the middle and all join in”.

Penny Elsley, founder of The Welcome Dinner Project also spoke explaining how old and new Australians meet for a meal in a home with everybody bringing a dish from their own country. Two facilitators from “The Welcome Dinner Project” join these eight ‘established Australians” and eight “new to Australia” fostering a cultural exchange.