Kids make their mark to make a difference

Mish Eisen with the bookmark display. 157692 Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

By CASEY NEILL

Hundreds of hand-decorated bookmarks are showing support for asylum seekers in central Dandenong.
Lonsdale Street’s Asylum Seeker Resources Centre (ASRC) adorned its front window with the artworks on Monday 8 August.
Students from St Michael’s Grammar School in St Kilda decorated the bookmarks, donated a gold coin and gave up a book of their own.
PRO{MERGING}ART curator Mish Eisen started the bookmark project in 2013.
“I was living on the peninsula and I felt very far removed from the asylum seeker cause,” she said.
Ms Eisen was managing a gallery in Sorrento.
“I wanted to use art to show that art can make a difference,” she said.
She approached 10 schools on the peninsula and six took part.
About 500 students heard a presentation explaining what an asylum seeker was.
“From that, the children then decorate a bookmark,” Ms Eisen said.
Selected bookmarks were printed and sold to raise money to help children in detention.
“The children also needed to bring a gold coin and a book from their own collection,” she said.
“The bookmarks were placed in books and sent to children in detention.
“In 2013 you could still access people in the detention centres. Since then it’s all closed down.”
This year she partnered with just one school but still had about 500 participants, from Years 5 to 8.
“We collected books and collected gold coins and judged the bookmarks,” Ms Eisen said.
“This time the books are going to be distributed among the community, to families of former asylum seekers and refugees.
“The funds this time are being donated towards text books and educational books for asylum seekers in the Dandenong office of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.
“We’ve already raised about $500 in about two weeks.”
Before creating their bookmarks, the students heard from a former Sudanese child soldier, an ASRC representative, and a young woman who fled Afghanistan and is now a journalist.
“There was not a sound. These children were completely captivated and engaged,” Ms Eisen said.
She said this year’s bookmarks featured more written messages, while those in previous years had been more graphic.
“They were really thoughtful about the messages that they wanted to convey,” she said.
“It’s an exhibition of bookmarks by Australian children for children in Australian detention centres.
“Children don’t discriminate. They’re not about advocacy. They’re not engaged in political debate.
“They’re very honest in their approach and their attitude.
“We’ll keep doing it as long as there’s kids in detention.”
ASRC Dandenong acting manager and training co-ordinator Linda Perugini said the project was a lovely story of children working together towards a worthy cause.
“We felt it was a beautiful way to demonstrate that there is a lot of public support for the asylum seeker cause,” she said.
“We were also really touched that the children had put so much thought and effort into their work, and were sending such positive messages of hope.”

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