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People who want to protect their home countries from conflict and human rights abuses are at the root of Humanitarian Crisis Hub’s work. And the organisation is unique in the way it supports people from diaspora communities in Australia, explains director Denise Cauchi.
“We’re the only ones providing support for this kind of work,” she says.

“Most of the people we work with have had really, really horrific experiences in their lives and they haven’t come to Australia by choice.

“A lot of the time they’ve been active as journalists or human rights activists in their countries of origin and they’ve been forced to flee.

“A lot of the time they’ve been imprisoned, they’ve had family members who have been killed or have disappeared and they have come to Australia in very difficult circumstances.

“All the time they are living with an enormous amount of distress and concern for the people they’ve had to leave behind and they want to do something about that, whether it’s for their individual family members, whole communities or for their whole country.

“Being in a safe, comfortable environment like Australia is safe and comfortable but it’s not very comforting; if you can’t do anything then it’s like screaming into a void a lot of the time.”

HCH works with people from countries affected by war and conflict who promote the human rights of people in their countries of origin. It supports diaspora community groups from countries all over the world, provides resources, information and training to help hone the skills people need to make a difference to their friends and family back home.

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Director Denise Cauchi

“The work we’re doing is to help give them some support to make their work effective so they stand a better chance of being able to do something about the horrible circumstances that sent them here in the first place,” explains Denise.“That’s why I like this organisation. I’m an activist and I like working with other activists. Whether or not they were activists working in their countries of origin, they certainly are here.

“People like that change the world. We live in a time where there’s less and less of that and I think that needs to be nurtured in whatever form. As soon as the grass roots work stops the possibilities for innovation are reduced.”

Since HCH was set up in 2008 the main areas of work have been providing training to diaspora community groups through workshops, one-on-one support and mentoring, and network building by introducing diaspora organisations with other diaspora organisations and building networks with the wider Australian society.

“That’s the core of what we still do,” she adds. “We have grown organically and we haven’t been able to find organisations doing similar work to us which is very liberating in a way because you get to make your own path.”

But, she says, difficulty arises because there is no blueprint for the work HCH carries out and it can be difficult communicating to people what it is the organisation does and what the value of that is.

“Everyone can understand the value of building houses, helping refugees settle in Australia or helping with employment,” she explains.

“And everyone can understand human rights campaigning and advocacy but this idea of supporting diaspora organisations to take the action that they want to take in their countries of origin is pretty new.

“It’s a tricky one; we are helping people to help their people back home. That’s what’s innovative about what we’re doing but the flipside is it’s hard to fund because it’s hard to understand; we’re not digging a well, we’re not buying goats, we’re not educating a child.

“If you can characterise your work in those concrete ways then it’s a lot easier for the public to get a grip on what you’re doing.”

But Denise says the work that HCH does helping people who feel isolated and connecting people from different diaspora communities is one of the most rewarding parts of her job.

“Providing moral support to people who feel like they’re doing this on their own, for me, is really important,” she says.

“And it’s when you hear people say things like ‘I thought we were the only ones doing this. I didn’t realise there were other communities facing the same things’ and to be able to put them in touch with each other is great.”