Lifting up the vulnerable
Dr ANNE ALY, Federal Minister for Early Childhood Education and Youth, spoke from the heart when she shared her story at the recent launch of the Red Shield Appeal in Canberra.
In 1974, my parents had been in Australia for seven years, after arriving here as Egyptian migrants. Dad was an engineer and Mum was a nurse, but here they took the jobs they could get. That year we moved to Brisbane, and for three weeks the rains came, leading to devastating floods.
That was the very first time we encountered The Salvation Army because it was then that my parents felt the weight of having to ask for help.
We were evacuated from our home and, even as a seven-year-old at the time, I still remember the generosity of The Salvation Army and how they helped my family, who had spent seven years building a life and saving for a house, a car, a television. The generosity of the Salvos during the floods showed my family there is more to life than possessions – that human connection in time of need.
The Salvos became a permanent fixture in our life from then on, even though we were a very traditional Muslim family.
A Salvo named Mrs Radcliffe became part of our family and throughout my teenage years, Mrs Radcliffe was always there.
Fast forward to 1994 and I was married with two young sons but had endured three years of physical, mental and emotional abuse from their father. One night I decided that enough was enough, so I left with a three-year-old and a one-year-old.
I wasn’t working at the time, and I had nothing. I went to the Centrelink office and was told it would take five weeks for my payment to come through. I remember walking out of that office, leaning against the wall and breaking down in tears. I felt utterly alone. Walking into the Centrelink office that day I felt shame, and I felt shame and humiliation every time I had to put an item back at the checkout counter because I knew I couldn’t afford it.
“The Salvos never judged us, and never made us feel shame or humiliation.”
Every time I had to say no to my children I felt shame, but I learned to make ends meet. I learned how to sew so I could make my boys’ clothes. I learned how to live off the leftovers of my children’s food because I couldn’t afford to feed the three of us.
I learned how to survive, but every single day I felt shame and humiliation.
And here’s the thing about shame. It leaves an indelible mark on you – it scratches itself into your DNA. And unfortunately, too many Australians are made to feel shame for circumstances they find themselves in, over which they have absolutely no control.
The one thing I’ve always carried with me is the way in which the Salvos never judged us, and never made us feel shame or humiliation. We need to become a society that doesn’t make people feel shame. We need to be a society that lifts up our most vulnerable, that doesn’t keep kicking them while they’re down.
“We need to become a society that doesn’t make people feel shame.”
I have come a long way, obviously, since then, and I recognise the privileges that allowed me to lift my family out of poverty. The opportunity for education, the opportunity for gainful employment, and the people I was surrounded by who didn’t make me feel ashamed. The people from The Salvation Army – their generosity, their kindness, and the way they didn’t judge me in my darkest times of need.
I have immense gratitude to The Salvation Army for what they have done to make me who I am today and the way in which they helped my family without prejudice and without judgment.
I urge you to give generously to the Red Shield Appeal because not only do I know how much The Salvation Army does, I also know how much it means to the individuals they help.