Lawuo, Layla and Beatrice are meeting at a community centre in Adelaide. They greet each other warmly and laugh as they share stories of what they have been up to.
The women have many things in common – they all hail from Africa, they all had to flee their homeland for their safety, and they have all ended up living in Adelaide.
They all also used the Red Cross tracing service to help locate family members that they were separated from because of war.
But that is not why they have gathered with a group of African women and Red Cross members and staff on this particular morning.
They are there to join as members of Red Cross, forming the Red Cross African Women’s Network, the first of its kind in Australia.
Lawuo Pewee is from Liberia, and her association with Red Cross goes back to 1996 when she contacted the organisation in the country’s capital, Monrovia, in search of her sister who she lost in the midst of civil war.
“Red Cross wrote to me and said they found her in Sierra Leone. Red Cross helped me and I joined her there but then I went back to Liberia.
“Another war broke out and the border closed. We lost contact again. My sister moved to Australia and used the Red Cross service to trace us and she found us in Guinea. Red Cross came to us and said ‘your sister is in Australia’.”
With her sister’s help, Lawuo moved to Australia in 2014 with her five children. Unfortunately her sister died before she arrived.
“I was feeling so down when I arrived with the kids. But I was blessed, some friends recommended me to the African Women’s Federation and I volunteered with them, that’s why I’m here today.”
It is the African Women’s Federation of South Australia that has signed on as a membership group with Red Cross. Today they are meeting with existing Red Cross branch members to learn more about the organisation, and explore opportunities.
“I want to be more involved because Red Cross helped me before, so I would like to be a volunteer with Red Cross,” says Lawuo.
The sentiment is the same for Beatrice Munu, who arrived in Australia with four of her children in 2004 after fleeing Sierra Leone. She lost contact with her eldest son and he was left behind.
“I went to Red Cross and explained to them that during the war we were separated and he was arrested. They found him in Guinea and helped us reunite in Australia. I was very happy.
“Red Cross helped me,” says Beatrice, “now I want to help other people.”
Layla Hussein has been in Australia for 22 years, and arrived with her son who was seven at the time. They had fled Eritrea and lost contact with her mother and siblings. Layla went to Red Cross in Adelaide and they helped her trace her family; they were found in Sudan.
Layla is looking forward to being a part of Red Cross as she sees it as a way she can help others.
“I see the kids in Syria now on the news and I feel so awful for them. I hope to be able to help with Red Cross.”
As members of Red Cross, the group will develop their own ways to engage with the organisation that will bring benefits to both their communities and Red Cross.