Nine years ago, Alex and I returned to India to spend three weeks touring with World Vision, teaching art and drama to children and young people, and training their teachers and community leaders. It was the 2nd time we had been to India that year.
Eleven months earlier when we went to visit Alex’s family and to see something of India, we included a small voluntary arts project with a children’s home in Calcutta run by World Vision for former street children and child-labourers. It was easy to develop warm and friendly relationships and we felt the start of a bond that we hoped would continue into the future. We intended to spend a couple of half days with them but ended up extending our project and spending quite a bit of time with this warm and engaging community. The experience was wonderful and set us on a journey that led us to form Artists in Community International.
In the eleven months between visits lots of things happened which were impacting and changing our lives, not least of which was the death of my beloved father, John. When we returned to Calcutta we soon learned that one child (aged 11) had also experienced a momentous year. Her father had died too. We both came from large families with five girls and two boys. In our shared losses we found common ground. But also a great divide.
My father died, aged 77, in the Alfred Hospital. He had been admitted two weeks earlier after a severe heart attack, the second in his life. He suffered his first at aged 60, luckily he was restored from the near death flat line to soon living a full life and at aged 65 by-pass surgery rejuvenated him beyond expectations. The surgery had elevated his wellness and until the last two weeks of his life he was able to do everything he wanted to do. Throughout, he had been supported by amazing care, modern pharmacology and surgery and all that was available in cardiac-care at that time.
In contrast, this young India girl’s father died of septicaemia. He was a rickshaw puller in Calcutta and had stepped on a nail. Rickshaw pullers struggle to make a living; with seven children and possibility an extended family to support, there was no money available to purchase the care or antiseptic to prevent this minor wound becoming a life-threatening illness causing death.
I was shocked that such a small incident, the want of antiseptic cream and hygienic steps had cost him his life – and his children, a father. The contrast between that and my father’s last weeks, then moments in hospital, was stark. I could not ever imagine confronting a situation in Australia where someone would die because of that lack of simple care.
But I am confronted by that knowledge now. And I am even more shocked. On Saturday, a young man died in Brisbane hospital from a foot injury that had gone untreated in its early stages. This 24-year-old asylum seeker, Hamid Kehazaei, developed a severe infection on Manus Island (a off-shore detention centre) after he cut his foot. He was declared brain dead last week.
It is reprehensible that this should have happened when refugees are under a duty of care of the Australian Government. It is reprehensible that there is no proper medical care available to these people who have a right to seek asylum here, and who have been isolated and detained on an island out of sight of the Australian people. It is reprehensible that no-one in charge had the compassion to take care of this man – and no doubt many others who are suffering there. And it is reprehensible that the Minister for Immigration, Scott Morrison, can have the temerity to speak of condolences to Hamid’s family, as if he had nothing to do with this death.
I am truly shocked that Australia has come to this.