Felicity Banks is an awesome author, fighter for justice, escape room magician and innovator. She’s a fellow writer at Odyssey Books, and I spoke to her in 2018 for Last Word of the Week.
Today I’m thrilled to present Felicity’s guest post about the Castle of Kindness Project and the complexities of life in general.
Felicity Banks speaks about the Castle of Kindness
Felicity: From the age of twelve to twenty-two I planned and trained to become an aid worker in Indonesia, teaching slum kids English. During that time I travelled to Indonesia seven times, studied the language and culture from Year Seven to university level, and became fluent in Bahasa.
Then I. . . changed my mind. I wanted to stay In Australia.
I married, had two kids, and even finally had several books published.
My health collapsed into disability via chronic illness. But in all that time, Indonesia stayed in the back of my mind. Not to mention the rest of the world.
You can call it white guilt, if you like.
Or you can cause it historical awareness. Like every non-Indigenous Australian, I benefit from the illegal seizure of this land. And from the attempted genocide of the Indigenous people.
And from the systemic, institutionalised racism that continues in the form of police and prison brutality, media bias, and so much more. And from the day-to-day racism that means I am more likely to get a job (or a favour, or a loan) than an Indigenous person who is just as qualified as I am.
How do I live with that?
I’m no longer well enough to work at a “real” job, which ironically gives me every writer’s fantasy: the ability to write full-time. Writing is such an enjoyable thing to do, it hardly seems fair. I wonder, often and always, if my books are making the world better. If anything I do matters. If I should be doing something—anything—more than I am.
What more can I do?
And then I read [book title redacted due to spoilers]. A fantasy story, in which people from our reality step through a portal into a brilliant, beautiful, magical land. Even the toilets are magical: anything that goes into certain containers simply vanishes into thin air. Fun!
But the characters discover that all that magic is being taken from the ‘enemy’ population. The wealth that creates beautiful buildings leaves slums in the other land. The toilets empty into their backyards. Even the illnesses that would afflict the beautiful magical creatures in the first kingdom are given to the children of their enemies.
The characters, being fundamentally decent, must immediately give up their beautiful magical land and its exploitative underbelly. . . but in the process they discover that there are several types of magic, and many branches of magic are not being used at all. Magic is not a zero-sum game after all. Although it is difficult, it is possible for everyone to have a decent amount of magic (and the beauty, health, and wealth that comes with it).
A second fundamental truth: being decent human beings doesn’t mean I need to sell my house and give all my money to the poor (and then live on the street). I don’t have to lose everything to lift others up.
It occurred to me, somewhat belatedly (I’m now 38), that I could help Indonesian people white still living in Australia. I know better than most how difficult it is to live in a nation that speaks a different language, because I’ve been there. So I am ideally placed to help migrants and refugees coming from Indonesia (or anywhere really) to settle into Australian life.
This epiphany happened in 2019
And since then I’ve been looking for ways to give what I have to people here in Canberra (without much success).
A few months ago, one of the groups I’d reached out to reached back: The Community Refugee Sponsorship Initiative (check it out here).
Long before I read the books that changed my life, several major refugee advocacy organisations got together to study refugee sponsorship in other nations (such as Canada, Ireland, and New Zealand) and design a program specifically for Australia.
This year—yes, this miserable plague of a year—they set up a ‘Mentor Program’ as both test and training to see how their refugee sponsorship program could work in practice.
There are now about twenty groups set up around Australia, ready to welcome and support refugees and refugee families in a number of practical ways: helping them find work, helping them meet new friends in their new home, helping them settle their kids into school, helping them with English practice, teaching them about Australian food (and animals that will kill them), and helping them financially until they’re able to stand on their own.
I am now the coordinator of the Castle of Kindness Refugee Sponsorship Group. Our GoFundMe is here and we’re running a Fundraising Gift Shop (including books donated by Clare Rhoden herself—and my extremely fun and magical Australian steampunk trilogy) here.
Until the end of this year, all the money raised in my shop (up to a threshold of $1000) goes into the refugee sponsorship fund.
And I’ll sign, gift wrap, and post them to the address of your choice.
This is happening, and it’s beautiful. And it’s all because of a book.
We meet our first refugee family today.
Thank you so much Felicity for sharing your story and you kindness!
Please visit Felicity’s store if you are looking for a bookish Christmas/end of year present that also helps others.