No man is an island by Adele Dumont
Hachette, 2016. ISBN 9780733636370
(Age: 16+) Highly recommended. Adele Dumont was one of those eager young people who answered the call to volunteer for a month at the Christmas Island detention camp teaching English to refugees. Finding the joy in teaching such enthusiastic resilient learners despite their desperate circumstances, she goes from there to gain employment as a teacher with Serco, giving English classes at the Curtin detention centre in Derby, WA, for two years. The book No man is an island is drawn from her experiences recorded in her personal journals throughout her time there.
I felt completely drawn into her story of the warm relationships and deep respect that builds between her and the Afghani men who call her 'My teacher, my teacher'. She becomes someone in between the 'us' of the 'officers' and the 'them' of the 'clients'. She forms genuine friendships and builds trust. The classes become a highlight in the days that easily lose meaning in the interminable wait for some kind of response to the men's applications for refugee status.
The camp is barren, set in a harsh unwelcoming landscape, and the lives of the refugee men are on hold, not knowing when they will get a case interview, how it will be decided, and what that will mean afterwards. It is the interminable waiting and sense of hopelessness that gradually takes its toll, with the glazing over of the faces, the self-harm and suicide. Dumont herself starts to share the same feeling of loss and fear. She describes the disorientation and loss of identity she feels when she gets to go to the 'outside'. She at least has that break away, the men 'inside' have no reprieve. They are held in indefinite detention.
It is a very cruel system and one that all Australians should know about - it is what our government, our country, is doing to dehumanise and destroy people who just are seeking safety and a new future. Dumont's book doesn't argue a case, it is not political in the way that Chasing Asylum by Eva Orner (2016) is, it just quietly draws the reader into that world hidden away from our eyes, so that we feel what Dumont felt, and gain some insight into the harm that is being done.