If you ask 22-year-old former Portland resident Grace Warren what her day to day life now consists of, you better prepare yourself for a highly unusual response. Every day Grace deals directly with one of Australia’s most heatedly debated human rights issues – asylum seekers.
Since January last year, Grace has been working for Serco, the company running the detention centre on Christmas Island, where she is now stationed working with unaccompanied minors. This means Grace’s responsibility is to now care for the children and adolescents’ day to day wellbeing, health and security as a client service officer. "I have about 100 boys underneath my care," said Grace. "My last roles have included welfare officer and heading the processing centre, which was my favourite role to date, as I worked closely with AFP (Australian Federal Police), customs, and immigration, and was able to see the inner workings of boat arrivals and oversee the largest intake of asylum seekers by boat. Ever. "Grace spent most of her teenage years living in Portland, and completed her high school education at Portland Secondary College in 2009.As someone who has always held a deep interest in politics and human rights issues, Grace left Portland determined to travel and gain a broad range of experiences. "I got onto this role because I was looking for a change," Grace said. "I had previously worked in community development and volunteered teaching English in rural India, and loved the experience. "I worked with a lot of economic refugees and always knew this was the field I wanted to pursue. "She has also spent time travelling to Indonesia, Europe and Central America, not half bad for someone who only finished school five years ago.
Grace’s work on the island has since only cemented her views on human rights and the need for Australia to do something more."The adolescent competition among political leaders to see who has the toughest immigration policy is fuelling the wide-spread belief that even if you are running for your life, you still have to wait in line," Grace said. "Billions and billions of dollars is spent keeping around 6000 people locked up. "People who want to work, get an education, and contribute to the Australian economy."For such a confronting job, Grace said the preparation she did to begin the work in no way softened the blow of reality. "I don’t think you can ever be fully prepared for the role," she said. "You think you have some idea of what it will be like, but then something happens that shakes you to your core. "I helped offload a boat that had broken down and had been on the water for 93 days. I was carrying living skeletons from the jetty to the medical centre." As far as life goes for a 22-year-old living and working on Christmas Island, life’s a bit different to those her friends are living."It’s a beautiful tropical island, with amazing beaches and some of the best diving I have done all over the world, but it’s so remote," Grace said. "We never have any fresh fruit of vegetables, we run out of petrol and milk regularly, there’s barely any internet and it’s hot and humid all the time. "Its beauty is a stark contrast to the work you do which is both uplifting and devastating at the same time."However, Grace still heads back to Portland when the opportunity arises to catch up with family and friends. And as for what the future holds, Grace plans to continue travelling and working in human rights. "I have future plans for study, to go to university and get the necessary degrees for my future career plans, but right now, I am getting as much experience as possible in the field," Grace said. "I have plans to travel again, next week I am going to Israel and Palestine for a month.
Photo courtesy of the Portland Observer.
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