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World Refugee Day Assembly
Photo by PNBHS

World Refugee Day


Earlier this term we held an assembly in recognition of World Refugee Day.

Refugees are people who have been displaced from their homeland by war, famine or because of fears for their safety. The United Nations estimate that worldwide some 80 million people have been forced to leave their homes. World Refugee Day is a United Nations initiative and this year focuses on the power of inclusion.

“The shared experience of COVID-19 has showed us that we only succeed if we stand together. We have all had to do our part to keep each other safe and despite the challenges, refugees and displaced people have stepped up.
Given the chance, refugees will continue to contribute to a stronger, safer and more vibrant world. This year, we call for greater inclusion of refugees in health systems, schools and sport. Only by working together can we recover from the pandemic.” - United Nations

Our assembly begin with a presentation from one of our Old Boys, Steven Sedley – the first refugee student to attend Palmerston North Boys’ High School.

Steven Sedley (the Hungarian spelling Czegledi was altered) was at PNBHS 1949-52, having arrived from Hungary in 1948 speaking no English. His brother Janos (called John) also attended Palmy Boys’ from 1951 – 1954.

Both Steven and Janos were in Albion Club. In 1950 Steven was in Form 5, Year 11, where he was first English, Social Studies, Mathematics and Science, an amazing achievement considering that he spoke no English when he arrived in New Zealand two years earlier. He passed School Certificate in 1951 and University Entrance in 1952.

After leaving school Steven trained as a teacher and returned to PNBHS to teach History and Social Studies in 1961. He was the Master in Charge of the Historical Society that year, a group that held fortnightly meetings averaging 25 in attendance with a range of guest speakers.

Janos is a music teacher in Tokyo and Steven went on to become the founding Chairperson of the Holocaust Centre in Wellington. In the 2018 Queen’s Birthday Honour’s list he was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to the Jewish community and music. In his citation, Steven’s role as a Volunteer Support Worker for New Zealand Red Cross Refugee Services was also mentioned.

Steven was unable to join us in person for assembly, but was very keen to contribute so recorded a short video:

Steven Sedley Reflects on his Experiences as a Refugee at PNBHS

The sentiment that Steven finishes with – that people could not understand what happened to us, that we were only refugees and people stopped and stared at us - is a sobering comment to consider.

Steven and his family lived in Budapest, Hungary, which had a Jewish population of 825,000 prior to the Nazi invasion – when Budapest was liberated at the end of the war only 119,000 Hungarian Jews survived – more than 700,000 had been exterminated by the Nazi regieme.

The quote on the wall behind Steven in the video - ‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing’, the words of British statesman Edmund Burke – links with the presentation we had earlier this year from Chris Harris of the Holocaust Education Centre and the message he had about the importance of having the courage to be an upstander when we see wrongs occurring.

The brutality that the Jews of Europe – including Steven and his family – had to endure is unimaginable. To follow this up with a move to the other side of the world, to a country where the customs, culture and language are completely foreign and to try to get on with daily life would have been unimaginably challenging.

It is a challenge that is not unique to Steven, it is one that refugees the world over, including those in Palmerston North and our school have to face.

Click here to read the Queen's Birthday Honours citation for Steven Sedley, of Wellington, MNZM, for services to the Jewish community and music

Christine Mukabalinda, Manager of the Manawatu Multicultural Council, spoke about the work of the Multicultural Centre and the opportunities available for young men to support some of the new immigrants in our community.

Christine concluded her presentation with this message:

Cultural heritage is something that all human beings share; wherever we come from there is a culture that follows us from that place.  No matter where you grow up, where you go, your culture will always be something you can take with you.  The Manawatu Multicultural Council believes it is very important that we teach our high school students the value in protecting their cultural heritage.
Most of our activities are run by volunteers.  Students can help organising events, mentoring younger students with another language to write a story in that language.
World Refugee Day Assembly — Image by: PNBHS