Changing Lives, Changing Communities: Dr Nora Amath’s story

  • A profile image of Dr Nora Amath, centre, sitting at a table with event participants
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Dr Nora Amath shared an inspiring story about her family, and the local Redlands community at the QCOSS Changing Lives, Changing Communities event in Brisbane on 3 and 4 March.

Nora, who works with the Islamic Women’s Association Australia and volunteers for Australian Muslim Advocates for the Rights of All Humans (AMARAH), told a harrowing tale of resilience that would shape the direction of her life forever.

Born in Vietnam, she and her family are part of the Cham people – an Indigenous group comprising of Muslims, Hindus, Christians and animists. Nora’s family are Muslim. In the wake of a war that was extremely politically divisive, the family became refugees after her father was deemed a traitor to the new Communist regime in Vietnam.

It was during this time that he was subjected to “rehabilitation”.

“Rehabilitation was code for torture,” she says.

“He was tortured three times, and we were told we wouldn’t see him again if there was a fourth.”

Not long after that last ‘rehabilitation’ session the family worked to escape Vietnam, and eventually travelled by boat to Cambodia, then further along on to Thailand where the US Red Cross were able to assist with an asylum application.

The family soon received positive responses from the Australia, Malaysia, and the United States – they accepted the latter which, she explains, accounts for her somewhat American accent.

After high school, Nora was keen to return to her Asian roots and moved to Malaysia to study literature and linguistics. There she would meet her husband, a fifth generation Australian.

“In 1999 we made the decision to move to Australia – with a six-week-old child and very little money,” she says.

After a period staying with in-laws in Redlands, they would soon find a home in the community after carving out a 800-square block to call their own. Around that property, several other families from all different backgrounds began building, and they all got to know each other over several months.

But when the time came to build basic fences something interesting happened: no one wanted them.

“We built a shared community, and it was something to celebrate. We bridged the divide between people and cultures,” she says, adding that it really demonstrated that Australian spirit of coming together.

“Everyone could see everything.”

“We could see and be responsible for one another… we really felt a shared responsibility – for each other’s kids, and for each other’s wellbeing.”

After September, Nora thought the fences would go up, but they didn’t. Instead, her neighbours were her main source of solace and support against the bigotry, hysteria and fear which ensued after 11 September 2001. The fences remained missing until the family moved away from the community some time later.

“We should embrace each other as a point of celebration, not division.”

This spirit is embodied in her favourite quote:

“In an embrace I close my arms around the other – not tightly, so as to crush her, or assimilate her forcefully into myself; but gently, so as to tell her that I do not want to be without her, in her otherness.”

“This quote inspires me to work for a community which has a shared humanity based on an embrace of one another’s otherness.”

To find out more about QCOSS’ Changing Lives, Changing Communities events click here.

11 March 2020