May 10, 2015 | ABC News
Young refugees are sharing their stories of war-torn Iraq and Syria, through theatre performances in the hope it will ease the trauma of their ordeal as well as educate the Sydney community.
The Tree of Life performance from Treehouse Theatre group at the Casula Powerhouse has designed a production to help the teenagers share their experiences.
Among the group of young refugees is Simon Oshana, who fled to Lebanon from Syria in 2012, before being granted refugee status in Australia.
Simon, 16, said he was 13-years-old and his life changed forever while playing soccer with his friends in the village of Tel Nasri in north-eastern Syria.
I thought ‘it’s easy, they just come here by boat, get a visa’ but no – it’s totally different.Aisha Hawli, student from the Australian International Academy
He said rockets fired by rebel forces, ravaged the village.
“I saw the planes and rockets and everything,” he said. “They were so close to me.”
The 13-year-old ran for cover and found his cousin Nino had been killed in the attack.
“They brought him to the hospital and he was dead,” Simon said.
“I saw him in front of me lying down with all his body injured and blood all over his body.
“I’m still living that nightmare.”
‘1000-year-old village bombed into oblivion’
Last month, Simon learned that the ancient Assyrian town where he grew up, was destroyed by the Islamic State militants.
“My 1000-year-old village was bombed into nothing, bombed into oblivion,” he said in the performance.
Two weeks ago, the 16-year-old said he found out on Facebook that his best friend was killed while fighting with Kurdish Peshmerga and Assyrian forces against IS.
“I didn’t believe it, I straight away messaged his brother and he said ‘it’s true’,” he said.
“It was a shock to me to see my best friend, who sat next to me in the school for many years, to see his picture on Facebook, dead.”
Simon said he used the theatre production to share experiences that he previously struggled to express.
“At the beginning, I didn’t tell anyone my story… I wasn’t that brave to tell my story because I’d cry straight away,” he said.
“Now I can control my story and tell it easily to the people.”
Iraqi sisters Athmar, 14, and Asrar Habeb, 16, fled Iraq with their family in 2013 after their cousin was kidnapped.
But they said the Tree of Life theatre production has helped with getting through their trauma.
“I feel good [that] the things that are in my heart, [go] out to people,” Athmar said.
“They know my stories.”
Audience perception of refugees’ plight changed
Audience member Aisha Hawli who is a student at the Australian International Academy said the performance changed her attitude towards refugees.
“It really showed you that refugees go through a lot more than us having been born in Australia and having a better life,” she said.
“I thought ‘it’s easy, they just come here by boat, get a visa’ but no – it’s totally different.”
Other school students praised the performers for their bravery in sharing their stories.
“If that were to be me in those situations, I don’t think I’d be courageous as they were,” Gabriella Prude from Miller Technology High School said.
“I can’t even imagine going through the things they’ve gone through.”
Marcello Ralph from the same school said “it was really emotional” and “it’s just a really eye-opening experience for everyone in this theatre”.
Dr Ken Edge, principal of Miller Technology High School, thanked the performers publicly at the end of the performance.
“Your stories are amazing, they challenge our beliefs,” he said.
Performance helps heal trauma
Ruth Hartcher-O’Brien, artistic director of Treehouse Theatre, said it was difficult for the performers to open up as their experiences are raw and ongoing.
“It’s bad enough telling stories of trauma that have happened previously,” she said.
“Horrible, sad deaths, kidnappings, bombings and you leave it and you come to a new life in Australia.
“But these stories where they’re in Australia and they’re still experiencing [trauma] and their families are still experiencing deaths, kidnappings and the sweep of [the Islamic State].”
Ms Hartcher-O’Brien said the drama program was designed to help the teenagers control their emotions through theatre.
The reaction they get from the audience just feeds their soul.Catherine Maguire-Donvito, co-directer and counsellor
“They’ve got some control, but the actual telling of it is heartbreaking,” she said.
“They sob and sob in those first sessions when we’re gathering their stories.
“They still tell their stories through their tears to all these audience members and they’re actually crying.”
Co-director and school counsellor Catherine Maguire-Donvito said the teenagers learn to juggle mixed emotions.
“It’s really important for the kids to understand you can be happy and sad at the same time,” she said.
“You don’t have to be scared of the powerful and negative feelings.”
She said the performers’ involvement allowed them to feel a sense of significant accomplishment.
“The reaction they get from the audience just feeds their soul,” Ms Maguire-Donvito said.
“It is just a joyful experience for them and that’s what it’s all about.”