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Donaldson, Anita

Prominent Refugees, 2 January 1948

Anita Donaldson

Anita Donaldson

Dr Anita Donaldson, former Dean of Performing Arts at Adelaide University, was born in a children's refugee camp in Nazi Germany.

Her family had fled from their home in Latvia in October 1944 after the Soviets invaded for the second time. Donaldson's grandfather, a pharmacist, had disappeared in the first invasion, while her grandmother, a music teacher, had been sent to Siberia for 10 years. "This time there was no choice ... fleeing was the only option," she says.

Donaldson's mother and maternal grandmother packed whatever they could carry, buried the silver in the garden, and, together with Donaldson's eldest sister, set out on the long and difficult journey that would finally bring them to Australia. En route, Donaldson was born in Kampenwand camp.

Granted refugee status by the United Nations in Germany, the family made its way to Italy to catch the first available ship to Australia the SS Oxfordshire, bound for South Australia.

They arrived on a hot and dusty day in November 1949. Life in Australia began in the tin Nissan huts of Woodside Migrant Camp, where Donaldson's mother, a qualified dentist, worked in the camp hospital while her father worked for two years as a labourer. The camp provided a kindergarten, English language classes and various orientation sessions, but the main source of assistance came from individuals associated with various churches, the Church of Christ in particular.

Donaldson considers the emphasis placed by her parents on education as one of the most positive aspects of the exile experience. She is also proud of her dual cultural heritage. "Although I regard myself very much as an Australian, being Latvian is also an essential part of who I am."

She became a pioneer of dance education, developing the first centre for Dance Criticism and Choreological Studies in Australia. Following a Bachelor of Arts and Diplomas in Teaching, Dance Education and Physical Education, her 1993 doctorate was the first PhD in "pure" dance in Australia (although she had to go overseas to do it).

Donaldson was Dean of Performing Arts at Adelaide University from July 1993 to December 2000. She made a significant contribution to dance and the performing arts through her membership in university course accreditation committees nationally and internationally, her position on various government boards and advisory committees, as well as her reviews and newspaper articles.

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Abdu finds his voice in Germany

When bombs started raining down on Aleppo, Syria, in 2012, the Khawan family had to flee. According to Ahmad, the husband of Najwa and father of their two children, the town was in ruins within 24 hours.

The family fled to Lebanon where they shared a small flat with Ahmad's two brothers and sisters and their children. Ahmad found sporadic work which kept them going, but he knew that in Lebanon his six-year-old son, Abdu, who was born deaf, would have little chance for help.

The family was accepted by Germany's Humanitarian Assistance Programme and resettled into the small central German town of Wächtersbach, near Frankfurt am Main. Nestled in a valley between two mountain ranges and a forest, the village has an idyllic feel.

A year on, Abdu has undergone cochlear implant surgery for the second time. He now sports two new hearing aids which, when worn together, allow him to hear 90 per cent. He has also joined a regular nursery class, where he is learning for the first time to speak - German in school and now Arabic at home. Ahmed is likewise studying German in a nearby village, and in two months he will graduate with a language certificate and start looking for work. He says that he is proud at how quickly Abdu is learning and integrating.

Abdu finds his voice in Germany

Through the Clouds to Germany: One Syrian Family's Journey

On Wednesday, Germany launched a humanitarian programme to provide temporary shelter and safety to up to 5,000 of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries. A first group of 107 flew to Hanover in the northern city of Hanover. They will attend cultural orientation courses to prepare them for life over the next two years in Germany, where they will be able to work, study and access basic services. Among the group are Ahmad and his family, including a son who is deaf and needs constant care that was not available in Lebanon. The family fled from Syria in late 2012 after life became too dangerous and too costly in the city of Aleppo, where Ahmad sold car spare parts. Photographer Elena Dorfman followed the family in Beirut as they prepared to depart for the airport and their journey to Germany.

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