Helping the newest citizens

Writer, Craig Billingham, and illustrator, Judith Martinez of Pablo Browne at their Katoomba home with their new children's book that's aimed at helping refugeechildren overcome the challenges of migration. Now through a crowd-funding initiative a resource kit could accompany it.
Writer, Craig Billingham, and illustrator, Judith Martinez of Pablo Browne at their Katoomba home with their new children's book that's aimed at helping refugeechildren overcome the challenges of migration. Now through a crowd-funding initiative a resource kit could accompany it.

It's a children's picture book that's aimed at helping the newest and smallest Australians overcome the challenges of migration.

Called The Empty Jar, the thoughtful book is filled with enchanting drawings by Katoomba illustrator Judith Martinez with words by her partner, Craig Billingham.

Together they are known as Pablo Browne and they collaborated with a Melbourne psychologist, Jennifer Dawson, from inTouch Multicultural Centre Against Family Violence, to bring the book to life.

The book tells the story of Sunni and Marli who have fled their homeland and now must flee a violent father. The book offers hope via Sunni's vivid imagination of the stars, the sky and new friends.

"She imagines that she is the captain of a ship, navigating an unknown sea, towards a land full of new adventures," says Ms Martinez.

Children who are reading the book react in different ways, she says.

"Some see themselves in Sunni and Marli, while others recognise their friends, or have some insight into what it's like to start a new school."

Mr Billingham is a poet and fiction writer, whose work has appeared in Meanjin, among others, while Ms Martinez is a graphic designer who was recently featured at The Blue Mountains Cultural Centre exhibitions Keepsake and The Black and Blue Project.

Recently launched at the Melbourne Writer's Festival, Ms Martinez says the book is about how a young girl finds strength and courage to overcome the challenges of family breakdown. While neither Ms Martinez or her partner suffered from family violence, she identifies with Sunni's having to settle in a new country.

"I didn't speak a word of English when I arrived. I remember my ESL class and how kind my teacher was. In that way, I can relate to Sunni very well."

She now works with organisations that help refugees.

The book has been distributed to many politicians around Australia, including Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Immigration Minister Scott Morrison and is available at http://intouch.asn.au/news-events/.

The couple is also part of a crowdfunding campaign titled Fill the Jar to raise $20,000 to build a national help kit to go alongside the book.

The kit will be translated into various languages and include "emotion cards, strength stickers, colouring pages, parenting tip sheets and training packages for practitioners".

"There are very few culturally sensitive resources to assist migrant and ethnic children who have experienced family violence. It is important that we provide a space for these children, that we hear their voices, listen to their stories and help them heal," Ms Martinez said.

Another Mountains collaborator, Victoria Jefferys from WriteLight in Blackheath, produced the book. And Ms Martinez added "those who know Katoomba might notice that Leichhardt Street features in one of the illustrations".

The book took two years to create. The crowdfunding campaign finishes on Tuesday November 18 and as we went to press, 40 backers had pledged just over $3000. Details at http://startsome good.com/fillthejar#sthash.XMYOEDAC.dpuf.

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