The final meeting of the Mid North Coast Refugee Support Group in 2019 was an opportunity to reflect on the successes of the year and to thank those who have contributed so much.
One of those people was Kathryn Parle who has helped to let people in the community know about the great work carried out by the group.
"Kathryn explained to the community our concerns about the treatment of refugees which she had first-hand experience with, working as a counsellor on Nauru as well as other detention centres such as Christmas Island and Darwin," said resettlement coordinator, Janette Jones.
"When we had our three Tamil feasts she helped to advertise them. On a number of occasions she was able to explain how members of our group provide holidays for refugees through the Home Among the Gum Trees program."
The arrival of 10 Tamil refugees into the area this year has galvanised the group to provide support needed as required. They have meetings on the first Saturday on every second month at the Wauchope Arts Council Hall opposite Bain Park at 10.30am, with their first meeting for the year occurring on February 8.
Kathryn Parle has worked for 12 years as a counsellor to asylum-seekers, and she believes we need to be more humane.
Kathryn lived in Wauchope for 26 years and raised her three children here.
When they left home, she left too, and went to Norfolk Island to work as a counsellor at the hospital there.The island has a population of 2,000.
From that job, Kathryn went to Peru for six months, travelling as a tourist and then doing voluntary work in Iquitos in the Amazon area, where she was a volunteer counsellor for a charity, Amazon Promise, who gave her an interpreter.
Then, she heard about a job on Christmas Island, working with refugees. She got it, and set up a team for their health service there in 2010. During her 12-month stay, Kathryn worked with asylum-seekers and people who had been detained and were very traumatised from their boat journeys.
"It's a beautiful island, with coral reefs and fabulous fish and great people. I learned about refugee work and what their lives are like," she recalled.
After that, Kathryn moved to Darwin and worked there for two years, with asylum-seekers in detention. She says suicide attempts were frequent.
After a few months' holiday in New Zealand, she came back to Australia, and worked as a Red Cross volunteer in Sydney, then spent five years working with asylum-seekers in Melbourne as a counsellor.
Then, the Wauchope woman took time off from work and went to Nauru as a counsellor for three months. Kathryn describes it as an environmental disaster area.
"It's a horrible place to be. Nothing is organised. There is no fresh food on the island. All the fresh food has to be brought in, which makes it very expensive. For example, it costs $2 to buy an onion," she said.
"Unwell people, stressed to the max, are being told to eat more fruit and vegetables. Nobody wanted to be there. There is so much unnecessary suffering.
"I met people on Nauru whose lives have been trauma from day one. One was a boy who was on his mother's knee when she was shot, and his father was also shot. He was a fine young man who wants a safe life."
Kathryn has also worked with asylum-seekers who were on Manus Island and have come to Australia.
"The amount of money spent on the processing centres there, which don't work properly, is enormous. It's designed to destroy people's hope. They just want people to give up and go away," she said.
"The stress that people are under over time is a breeding ground for more mental illness, depression, insomnia, obsessive compulsive disorder, nightmares, fearing for their children and losing hope, and sometimes feeling suicidal.
"It is so hot on Nauru. It's right on the equator. It's a waste of lives."
After she retired and returned to Wauchope, Kathryn joined the Mid North Coast Refugee Support Group. So what does Kathryn think is a solution to the problem of refugees?
"I think we have to remember our humanity and pay attention. What I have learned from this is that if you have not got a broken heart, you are not paying attention.
"I have seen the tip of the iceberg in Nauru, and there are refugee camps all over the world. It is not right to lie about people's status and humanity. After meeting thousands of asylum-seekers, I would say we have nothing to be scared of.
"Asylum-seekers have had a hard enough time, escaping death and mayhem, experiencing trauma, and they need help to be resettled quickly, not face one difficulty after another.
"A local support group can help them with all the ways that our society works. They want to fit in, they want to meet people. I would like to see them welcomed.
"They offer a great deal to our community in terms of their enthusiasm, appreciation of what we have to offer in terms of peace, and even cleanliness - things like garbage collections and traffic lights. People from Iraq and Afghanistan are so appreciative.
"The thing they appreciate most is the chance to educate their children. We should open our arms to the diversity," she added.
Kathryn is heading off to travel around Australia for a while in a van, visiting family member, house-sitting, and exploring this beautiful country. She says she will come back to Wauchope.