Forging friendships in faith

AboutFACE introduced Filipino-born Berlin Guerrero to the First Peoples of Australia. Such an introduction was one that Berlin had dreamt of for many years while awaiting his Australian protection visa. In the Philippines, Berlin had been the mediator and host of the brethren who came to spread the word of God. His activism, aimed at unveiling government corruption, led to years of dodging bullets and hiding from government-employed assassins. Eventually he was kidnapped, tortured and imprisoned for 15 months.

In his work advocating for human rights, Berlin had been working closely with the Uniting Church – a relationship which gave him strength to fight the corroded system. But being in serious danger, he knew he had to seek asylum elsewhere and continue his work from abroad.

So he came to Australia, with assurance from the Uniting Church that it would host him through his application for political asylum. Less than six months later he participated in AboutFACE.

The program, which has been running for almost 30 years, was originally developed as an exchange of faith and culture for future leaders in the Church. It has now expanded to include anyone over the age of 18 and sends participants not only to parts of Australia, but overseas as well.

Fascinated by the culture and traditions of Australia’s Indigenous community, Berlin knew that outback Australia would be a perfect start to his Australian life. His trip took him to the South and North of Australia. There he immersed himself in the traditional lifestyles of the Indigenous community and met Uncle Ronnie Finn (pictured).

For Berlin, Australia is a place that has offered him hope. Not only that, but solidarity with the Indigenous community, which he sees as being likewise deprived of some of their basic human rights.

“The Australian Government’s solutions to bridging the gap between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous is to integrate them, but this is not what they want,” he said.

“For the Aboriginal community, it is important that they practice their way of life and not be forced to accept what’s given to them. The Elders know and understand the wider communities. The Australian Government needs to give them more autonomy and resources to decide the best way forward.”

Berlin was hosted by Congress communities in each area. He says in South Australia’s Port Augusta, despite it seeming that the Indigenous community are well-integrated, they actually live in the low socio-economic areas. This is coupled with the daily racism the community faces.

“Racism is huge in Australia and we are getting complacent about it,” Berlin said.

“One family said that they went to a hotel to have a nice weekend, but they were told that the hotel was fully booked – for months.

“This is an issue that we all need to address in Australia. I’m glad the AboutFACE program enabled me to get involved with these communities on the margins, so we could share stories and meals together,” he said.

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