TIM BUXTON is the founder and host of the podcast Justice Matters where he interviews those leading the fight for a world where everyone belongs. Returning from Iraq in 2017, Tim and his wife Sarah also founded youBelong Australia, an organisation based in Toowoomba which aims to empower newly arrived refugees to Australia via the facilitation of community integration programs, community events and programs facilitating growth through training and development. There is an interesting story behind how all of this began, and Nicole Browne got together with Tim to find it all out.
Firstly, congratulations on youBelong and the podcast Justice matters where you have interviewed some incredible people along the way. I understand Justice Matters has been an idea in the making for some time – can you take us back to when all of this came about?
That is a big question. Where to start… I had been living in New York for a time which is where I met my wife, working for a church that was doing some incredible humanitarian work all around the world. I was overseeing all of their short-term humanitarian trips and it was on a trip to Iraq when I realised, I wanted to give more of my life to the people we support. Rather than go back and forth supporting these people, I actually I wanted to stay and live there. I had a young family so that wasn’t really my decision to make alone. After a couple of years and a family trip over to Iraq finally, together we came to the decision to actually make the move over there.
Iraq of all places? I have never seen Iraq as a place one would choose to move to with a family.
Well, it just so happened that our move coincided with the time ISIS invaded the city Mosul, a 45-minute drive away from the airport we flew into. That gave our whole trip new meaning and purpose. We were now facing probably one of the largest refugee crisis’ of the 21st century with what was happening in both Syria and Northern Iraq, so where originally our purpose was to assist in community development our main focus was in crisis relief and humanitarian work with refugees.
Unfortunately, three and a half years into our stay, we had to reassess whether it was where we needed to be due to what was unfolding in the area and quite quickly, we had to jump on a plane, which is how we ended up back here in Australia. That was at the end of 2017.
Fleeing Iraq, leaving your work behind then arriving in Australia must have felt like a completely different world from the last almost four years. What was it like integrating back into life here?
The nature of living in a volatile place is things are out of your control. In Iraq things change on a day-to-day basis there which is in contrast to the somewhat stability of life here. Living there was such an enriching beautiful experience.
It was tough at first coming back. It felt like I hadn’t completed what I set out to do over there. But then something crazy happened. We weren’t back long when we found out that these families we were helping in Iraq, Yazidi families had been granted humanitarian visas to come and live in Australia. Some families were in Toowoomba, and because the culture, their language, their religion, the Yazidi people in particular are so familiar to me, as soon as I could I got in the car and drove to Toowoomba to meet with the families.
Over weeks, months I would go up and sit with the families, spending time asking, ‘how can I serve you?’ ‘How can we help you in your new life here in Australia?’ and it all weaves in from there. I then started meeting some incredible local Toowoomba people who jumped on board and that is kind of how youBelong began. In three years, we have grown to providing a vast array of programmes and support to these incredible families.
When they arrive, they are given settlement support in finding homes, work, receiving benefits etc, but beyond that, what are some of the greater challenges they face when settling into life here?
Language is a big one. There are opportunities in the workforce when they arrive, but often their English isn’t good enough to even get around and communicate. Also, they are dealing with some great emotional trauma. Most have come from refugee camps where they have arrived with nothing, so they are starting again from scratch, which is tough. We realised early on that relational support was lacking and so we needed to focus on this whole area of belonging by providing social, relational and emotional support to them and that is where youBelong has excelled.
And now you also host your own podcast Justice Matters. What inspired to move in this direction?
I wanted to create this comfortable space where we can have the uncomfortable conversations. I love that podcasts allow us to take time to have a conversation with someone and bring their story to life. It is easy to get caught up in the negativity of the news today – or how the media are portraying certain issues. Justice matters is about bringing something positive to the world. I wanted to lean into the fact that there are some incredible people around the world doing remarkable things. Yes, there are these huge issues coming up. Human trafficking is happening, people are fleeing their homes, genocide exists, but let’s have these conversations, get uncomfortable, learn from others and what they have experienced. But not only that, lets listen to those on the ground making a difference, because they are the leaders in what they do.
You interviewed Gold Coast filmmaker Jude Kalman recently who shared ‘if you aren’t doing it out of love you are just creating a noise.’ Today there is a lot of noise on social media – how do you navigate your way through the noise?
I think we can all in some way be drawn into this beautiful better story we can create for society, for ourselves and especially the vulnerable, who through all the crisis in the world are the ones who end up suffering the most. I am here to build community. For everyone to know you belong. When I sit down to listen to someone’s story, I am willing to humble myself and say to them ‘I am listening. I want to learn from you.’ There is a whole other language in that action, no matter where they are from. This isn’t about me and my self-interest.
Next year we are starting up another podcast where our refugees will be the hosts the podcast and sharing their stories. It is important for us to hear what they have to say, and it is important for them to have an opportunity to speak it. We have so much to learn from those who come here and make Australia their home and the more we get to know them and learn about where they are from and what positive contributions, they are making to our community the better for our whole community.
Join Tim on his podcast Justice Matters by heading to youbelong.org.au where you will also find out more about the work his organisation does, or follow the podcast on Spotify or iTunes.