Refugee Week

Shankar’s story

The Journey

Over thirty years ago, Shankar’s father was a philosophy teacher at a Sri Lankan university, passionately engaged with his students. “It was his dream job”, says Shankar. However, he was unaware that his activities with Tamil students and activists made him a target, and that he was being closely watched. The Vice Chancellor of his university, suspicious of Tamil academics, reported him to the authorities. This led to his detention and interrogation on the notorious fourth floor of Sri Lanka’s Criminal Investigation Department, a place feared for torture and mysterious deaths. Fortunately, he survived this harrowing ordeal.

Arriving in Australia

In 1987, Shankar and his family fled to Australia to escape the oppression and constant threat to their lives they endured in Sri Lanka. Unlike many others who face perilous journeys or detention, they were fortunately sponsored and were welcomed into a supportive neighbourhood. Shankar fondly recalls the kindness of their new community: “As a four-year-old, I remember the gifts we received from church groups at our home in Mount Waverley, such as beds, a TV, and even the food we ate.” They rented their first Australian home, a social housing property managed by the Council and a church.  They later bought it, and it is still their family home today.

Giving Back

For the past fifteen years, Shankar has been actively involved in fostering more inclusive neighbourhoods, schools, and workplaces. He is now a Commissioner for the Victorian Multicultural Commission and Deputy Chairperson of the Migrant Workers Centre. He has also worked with prominent charities including Oxfam Australia, the National Heart Foundation, Amnesty International, and the Red Cross. He has advised governments and taught in universities and, as an accredited Mental Health First Aid trainer, has supported mental health initiatives within migrant, refugee and First Nations communities.

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