Kon Karapanigiotidis: A midnight selfie with my sister Nola at the end of one of the hundreds of ASRC Wednesday night legal clinics we have done together ...
I have just finished reading “The Power of Hope” by Kon Karapanigiotidis. This truly powerful book reminds us just how much power resides with us – you, me, our immediate community, and the people of Australia.
Here is the story of a bloke without much hope at all, bullied, called a wog and much worse, physically less than attractive, told by his teacher in high school that he ought to leave school now because he’d never amount to anything.
And that no-account kid has grown into a man who has, for some 17 years, run the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) in Sydney, with no government funding (which, even if it were offered, he would reject) and yet turning over millions of dollars, thousands of voluntary man hours, donations by the truck load and today employing 175 paid staff and 1300 volunteers who between them are helping more than 5,000 people seeking asylum from sixty countries.
The ASRC provides food, legal support, advocacy, aid, employment, education, health, mental health and community development – and in the process this venture has touched thousands of lives beyond those of the asylum seekers. One man with a vision and enough energy to not take ‘no’ for an answer, who has inspired millions of ordinary Australians; a man who believes in equality and justice, in kindness and in being welcoming, in sharing and – above all - in common decency. The stories in the book of what support he got in this venture are inspiring and humbling.
But there is more to this book than that, big though that is. Here is an accessible story, honest, open and vulnerable, of an insecure young man who thought he was worth nothing, and how he turned it around. Of physical fears before rough, tough kids, of sexual longings, of terror when applying for jobs, and of a stubborn persistence in high ideals in the face of ridicule, of being cast out, even being sacked for it. Of times of ill health, of eating too much for emotional comfort and then being badly overweight. He speaks of what you can do when things are tough, and how that can not only lift yourself out of the dirt, but bring others into the light also.
He names and shames our government, not just in the appalling treatment meted out to refugees, but in their lack of empathy, their active promotion of cruelty, corruption, and mindless consumption. That the dominant notes from Canberra support hate, division, in-fighting, armaments, lack of community concern or support for the weak and poor, the reduction in real education and access to it, the cutting-back of libraries, and the complete failure to take effective steps in climate change. Even if you are not sure about welcoming lots of refugees, you will still find much of human value in this book. In the appendix there are many pages of practical suggestions as well.
He closes with: “It is time for me and you to tell a new story about ourselves, one that affirms and elevates us, and it is time for our country to do the same”.
Read this book. Make it the present you’ll give to everyone for the next occasion. Be inspired. Here is living proof that we do not have to put up with our appalling government any longer, or let it drag us down to its gutter, but rediscover the power that lies with you, me, and our community. The subtitle of the book is: “How community, love and compassion can change our world.” Let’s do it.
“The Power of Hope” Harper Collins 2018, $24.50, e-book $14.50
*Elizabeth Fleetwood ‘came to Tasmania in 1982; with her husband ran dairy farms, and then managed two retail businesses in the area while raising 3 children. Later, in Hobart, she ran a tourism business and is also the author of A Crying in the Wind, a history of Tasmania. Her biggest concern is the future of the next generation in the face of impending climate destruction, and what we should be doing about it.’