A new initiative that could benefit many migrant and refugee children struggling to assimilate in Australian schools is being set in motion this weekend. Initiated by Melbourne teacher Maria Foscolos, the Welcome Children to Australia Foundation has a very high and noble aspiration: to create a more compassionate and caring Australian population, who will actively make a difference to these desperate children.

“This is Australia’s opportunity to make it a World Leader and thus create a better world, without war, famine and unthinkable trauma,” reads the Foundation’s introductory statement.
“I decided to create a foundation with the vision of making the Australian population more compassionate aware and welcoming,” says Maria Foscolos, explaining how she was inspired by her 35-year-long trajectory as a teacher. “I have had the privilege of teaching English to newly arrived children from overseas – children coming from all around the globe, but the predominant students who have touched my heart come from the Middle East, but also from Africa and Asia.

“I identified a very clear need from my own schooling as a child of migrants, who was not welcomed in my school because my name was different.
“I don’t think that as a nation we have achieved the point of maturity and have a clear idea of identity, of who we are and where we came from.

“I thought I would start with these children who are most in need, and I am also thinking of the children who are in Greece; every classroom in Greece has some migrant children who are from other countries and I don’t think they are very much very welcomed there at the moment”

The foundation is making its very first steps on Sunday. “I’m having have a get together in my home, with people who I want to believe will be as compassionate and enthusiastic as I am,” she says.

“People think it’s a fundraiser which makes everyone feel good about themselves,” she says. “It’s not a fundraiser; I don’t want people to contribute financially. I want to change their thinking, I want them to meet some of these children and their families, to interact, to bring them in. If you meet some of these children and see how loving they are and how happy they are to be in this country – I’ve never seen happier children who are so grateful. As a teacher I’m doing that; as a human being I’m opening up my home and my heart.” She plans to do much more. “I’m planning to speak to politicians, to business people, to educators, to doctors, to anyone in my street who is interested,” she says.

In her statement, she makes a point in using the word ‘philoxenia’ – “from Ancient Greek civilization, being a “philos”, friend to the “xenos”, foreigner, welcoming him/her, as you would welcome a long lost, beloved family member to your home, providing a meal, a drink, a bed, a kind word, compassion and empathy.

“This is the vision that this foundation has for children and their families, especially those who have fled from the most unthinkable conditions from their home & country to save their lives and find refuge in a safe and hospitable country like Australia.”

Maria Foscolos doesn’t mince her words, when she talks about the plight of refugees stranded in detention. “That breaks my heart; they should not be exposed to the misery of being held in detention, to the mental halth issues they carry on their shoulders. I’m embarrassed by our government’s treatment of people who haven’t done any crime other than not having any identification papers.

They are the most desperate people in the world and instead of helping them, we are punishing them and their children. They flee for their lives but we lock them up? Where’s the humanity in that?

We are talking of children who are refugees, who have witnessed horror and trauma that we cannot begin to imagine. These families have lost their homes, they have lost their country, their security and they have to start all over again. This is the experience that many Greeks have had – the Pontians, the Asia Minor Greeks.”

Anyone interested in supporting the Welcome Children to Australia Foundation can contact Maria Foscolos by phone (0401008385) or email. (foscolosmaria@hotmail.com).