Last week, Australians tuned in to watch Australia Day Honours, a yearly event that acknowledges hundreds of Australians for their contributions to the community.
Among those awarded the country’s highest honour was Rosemary Kariuki, a Kenyan-Australian who was named Australia’s Local Hero of 2021.
Despite having fled tribal conflict in Kenya and arriving in Australia in 1999, or possibly because of it, Rosemary has endeavoured to create communities, synchronously out of goodwill and in her day job as a community liaison officer. For over two decades, the warmhearted mother of two has been helping isolated immigrant and refugee women in Western Sydney overcome domestic violence and financial distress.
She encourages immigrant women and fully assimilated Australians to “come out of their shell” and connect with each other. “The more we open our doors, the more we open our hearts, either with the migrants or also with the people who are born here, the more we will make it a beautiful multicultural country.” Said Rosemary in her award acceptance speech.
Those of us in the diaspora are constantly conscious of the difficulties we face trying to integrate into the communities we immigrate into. Often unintentionally, we end up living in silos – our little cultural villages – where we feel safe and understood. This feeling of safety comes at a cost though, since it not only limits our interaction with people that are different from us thereby denying us rich cultural gains, but, it also curtails our exposure to opportunities that we need to progress socially and economically in our adopted homes.
Seeing how African women were living in isolation and without access to services, Rosemary, in partnership with the African Women’s Group, helped start the African Women’s Dinner Dance in 2006, an event that is now attended by more than 400 women each year.
In a nutshell, that is Rosemary, whose passion for changing lives has been aptly captured in a new documentary. Rosemary’s Way celebrates this joyful woman and the group of vulnerable migrant women of suburban Sydney whose lives she helps transform, from isolation to connection.
Rosemary isn’t one to forget where she came from either and has always heavily felt the burden and need to give back to the community from which she fled those many years ago. In addition to doing her part in Australia, the tenacious women’s advocate is focusing the same passion on the residents of Kamukunji, an informal settlement near the farm in Eldoret where she and her 16 siblings grew up.
Kamukunji is riddled with various socioeconomic problems that often pervade such settlements – insecurity, illicit brews, substance abuse, early pregnancies, prostitution, improper or lack of waste removal and disposal, poor or no lighting, bad roads, poor housing, and the list continues.
Two years ago, a group of partners including Rosemary and her sister Jacqueline Kariuki (Canada) founded Hannah Community Development Project (HCDP) as a way to bring some needed change. Working with local leaders, churches, and a board of directors that meet and work with the people on the ground, HCDP is tackling one issue at a time.
Named in honour of Rosemary’s mother Hannah Njeri Kariuki, the development project that has so far been financed by family and friends is prioritizing one issue at a time. From mental motivational coaching of youth, the focus is now on raising money to empower the community through micro finance and building of jua kali sheds to provide a hub for merchandise and services like motorcycle repair – which is where we come in.
Wherever we are in the world, we have an opportunity to cheer and acknowledge this fellow Kenyan and perhaps borrow a leaf from her book. Join an online screening of Rosemary’s Way on Wednesday, February 10, 2021 at 10 PM EST – 1 AM EST. You’re encouraged to register now and tune back on the 10th of February at 10pm to watch the film and a live Q&A with Rosemary.
Tickets are $30 with $25 from each ticket purchase donated to the Hannah Community Development Project. Go online to: fanforcetv.com
If you cannot make it to the screening, consider donating directly to the HCDP via their website https://www.hannahcommunity.org/
Most of us emigrated from communities that need a helping hand and are fortunate to have escaped the debilitating circumstances/effects of poverty and lack of opportunity that many people including our family members still face in Kenya. Let us therefore give back whenever we can. Rosemary suggests to “Identify a need that you can start to work on alone without expecting to receive earthly reward, and you will be surprised how support will flow from areas you don’t expect.”
By Essie Wambui