Refugee Week: sharing Lena’s story

Refugee Week is an opportunity for the whole nation to celebrate the contribution refugees make to our society, and remembering and honouring the often perilous journey that refugees have taken to reach Australia – just like Lena Heto, former refugee and Foodbank volunteer.

Lena didn’t have the easiest start to life. But through the years, she has used art to help her heal and now harnesses her creativity to help others in need.

Born in Iraq in the late 1980s, Lena and her parents fled her war-torn homeland when she was just 3 years of age. She vividly remembers the night they crossed the border, as bombs shook the ground and her family’s life was reduced to a single suitcase.

After spending 5 years in Syria as refugees, it wasn’t until her parents gave birth to her younger sister that they were granted asylum in Australia.

When she arrived in Australia at age 8, Lena drew and painted to not only deal with the traumatic change but to help her communicate with her fellow students – as her English was very limited.

“Drawing helped me learn English. When I was communicating with kids at school, I would draw pictures and they would tell me the English word for the drawing which was so helpful.”

Lena reflects that she always turned to art to help her deal with her surroundings, often filling up her exercise books with drawings and illustrations.

“I started drawing at a really young age. It was in math’s class I used to draw intricate borders on every page of my exercise books.”

Almost 20 years later, Lena and her family are thriving. She works in a marketing role with a global organisation and now uses her art to give back to the communities that once helped her family when they couldn’t afford to put food on the table.

It’s been a journey and very character building. It teaches you a lot especially as a child when you thought living in a refugee camp was the norm and then you come to Australia and you see that you have freedom, you have safety and independence and equal rights.

She has previously hand illustrated cards and sold them at markets to raise funds for Foodbank and currently volunteers her time creating art work to help celebrate the efforts of other Foodbank volunteers.

Foodbank currently works with over 420 charity partners across the state, with 96 of these partners directly assisting refugee and migrant communities.

Click here to read more stories about some of the charity organisations and people we work with.