Stories of Hope
A Book Launch – Stories of courage and resilience from members of the Olympic Village Exodus Community in West Heidelberg
The origin of this very moving and poignant collection of personal stories, “Stories of Hope”, was a Mercy Justice Conference, with the theme “Embrace the Other and Welcome Difference”. The conference was sponsored by the Institute of Sisters of Mercy of Australia and held in Queanbeyan, near Canberra in November 2009. Many seeds of action for justice were sown at this gathering and scattered far and wide. A small group from the “Olympic Village Exodus Community” in West Heidelberg in Melbourne attended this Conference. Their voices were heard and their stories were respected and validated. They returned to their Community empowered and fired up by the experience. They knew again the power that is released, the power of healing and connection, when people share their life stories. They believed even more strongly in giving a voice to those who feel silenced or invisible. With other members of the Community at home they reflected on the importance of hearing the voices of those who are generally not heard because they are considered unimportant in society. They decided to formally record some of the stories of local residents.
The Community invited Anne Doyle, an Exodus Community volunteer, to take up the challenge to be the story-writer. As the ‘story writer’ Anne journeyed faithfully over two years with the twelve people who stepped out to become the ‘story tellers’ in this book. Anne listened deeply to each person, building relationships of trust and respect. At the book launch in early November, the story tellers, spoke confidently of how through revisiting their life’s journey they have been able to bring clarity, sense of order and acceptance to what might have seemed at times like a disconnected and damaged life. They felt they were no longer victims of what life had dealt to them. As the story-writer Anne also shared how privileged she felt as she journeyed with each one, how richer her life had become and how much she had been touched by the faith and human struggle of each person.
The poignant photography of Internationally recognised photographer, Meredith O’Shea, (who had previously worked in West Heidelberg on another project) adds to the human warmth of the story-telling in this book.
Each of the stories in this book is a tribute to the power of community and a reflection of the human face of God. Since 1998 the Exodus Community has been a significant presence in the Olympic Village in West Heidelberg, an area of social disadvantage and urban poverty. With its 50 volunteers, the Community continues as a vibrant model of church among the local people. Fifteen years on, hearing and telling stories both within the Exodus Community and amongst West Heidelberg residents is recognised as a key to enabling people, many of who have suffered significant trauma in their lives, to feel valued and appreciated. Effects of hardship, stigma, disgrace and abandonment have been able to be replaced in many situations by attentive and respectful listening, grace of presence, belief in the value of each person and recognition of God always-with-us.
(Brother) Harry Prout FMS
Stories of Hope is a beautifully produced book of 95 pages and is available from the Exodus Community (ph: 03 94577593 or firstname.lastname@example.org).
The Exodus Community is grateful to Bendigo Community Bank for financial support and to the Melbourne Archdiocese Office of Evangelization for its valuable contribution.
Photo: Story-writer Anne Doyle with one of the story-tellers Samantha at the Book Launch in November at West Heidelberg.