Two women from two vastly different backgrounds crossed paths by chance in 1982 and established a friendship that would change the course of both their lives.
Rural Australia for Refugees co-founder Helen McCue was an international consultant for the World Health Organisation (WHO) when she witnessed the massacre at Sabra-Shatila in southern Lebanon.
Olfat Mahmoud was a young Palestinian refugee and nurse living in the Shatila refugee camp. She was also one of the survivors of the massacre and the trauma from that day led her and Ms McCue to establish Union Aid Abroad, known as APHEDA.
“I resigned from my position at the WHO because of the response, or lack thereof, to the massacre and went about establishing an organisation to help the Palestinian people. Working with Olfat and others,” Ms McCue said.
“I always say APHEDA was born at Haifa Hospital,” she said.
The first project for the new organisation was to bring a group of Palestinian nurses to Australia for training.
Ms Mahmoud was one of them and it became the first of many visits for her to the country and the Southern Highlands.
“This will be my ninth visit, but not my last,” Ms Mahmoud said.
Their friendship also helped to foster the courage Ms Mahmoud needed to write down her story in her new book, Tears for Tarshiha.
“She knows very well the story of my life and Helen encouraged me to write my story which reflects the Palestinians story, really she convinced me at the end,” Ms Mahmoud said.
“I was hesitant to reveal much about my life, but I realised that I can help my people by telling my story. By telling my story, I am also telling the story of the Palestinian people,” she said.
Before speaking at the Canberra Writers Festival next month, Ms Mahmoud will be speaking at the Uniting Church in Bowral on Thursday August 2, hosted by Rural Australia for Refugees.
The talk will cover wide-ranging issues facing the plight of refugees everywhere from the Palestinian cause to Syria, to the Australian government’s off-shore detention policy for refugees arriving by sea.
“Olfat will of course tell her story, but she will also speak about the plight of refugees in Syria and elsewhere,” Ms McCue said.
“People are scared, all they want is a safe place for their children,” Ms Mahmoud said.
- Olfat Mahmoud – Public address and book launch: 7:30pm, Thursday 2nd August at the Uniting Church, Bendooley Street, Bowral, hosted by Rural Australians for Refugees.