She is another man’s mother, daughter or sister. Everyone deserves to have a home that is safe, especially children. A real man is the one who protects his family and controls himself at the time of anger.
Bilal El-Hayek is the Youth Coordinator at his local Police Citizens Youth Club (PCYC) in Bankstown. PCYC was founded in 1937 to offer ‘at risk youth’ a place to participate in structured recreational activities in a safe and healthy environment, and today there are over 60 clubs in New South Wales. Bilal runs Bankstown Families Connect– a project that brings together disadvantaged children and mothers from the local area to participate in different activities three evenings a week, ending with a group dinner.
With targeted activities and therapies, such as speech therapy and sports for the children, the project helps families that may be struggling, especially newly arrived immigrants. While Bilal runs structured activities with the children, the mothers take part in workshops and exercise classes in a separate room. The workshops, which include sessions on domestic violence, offer a safe and inclusive environment with trained specialists, and they encourage women to participate more fully in society. After the sessions, the children join their mothers and together with Bilal and other PCYC staff, they all sit down for dinner in a positive family-like atmosphere. Bankstown Families Connect is sponsored by The Smith Family, an independent children’s charity, and is free of charge for the families which participate.
Bilal was born in Lebanon and moved to Sydney with his family in 1999. His family places a high value on education and after graduating from Noor Al Houda Islamic College, Bilal studied electrical engineering at Bankstown TAFE. It was through his part-time job as a martial arts instructor that he found his calling as a community worker. Human Appeal International Australia, a humanitarian NGO, observed how well he worked with young people and offered him a job running the Orphan Sponsorship Program. From there, he continued to work with the community through the Lebanese Muslim Association and in 2013 he was approached by The Smith Family to become the Youth Coordinator at Bankstown PCYC – a job he loves.
Bilal’s background as a Lebanese Muslim, he believes, helps break down barriers in the group structure and facilitates greater openness from within. He admits he often sees depression among the mothers and actively seeks ways of encouraging them to feel free to speak about it. One woman remarked that the only time she left her house was to attend Bankstown Families Connect, and the classes and workshops were giving her more confidence. With rates of domestic violence in Bankstown well above the state average and still growing, Bilal tries to create a safe and positive atmosphere for women and children. Working with children at the earliest possible stage, and by setting a good example himself, he hopes they will learn to treat their mothers and other women with complete respect in the future.
Another source of pride for Bilal is his involvement as a White Ribbon Ambassador, helping to organise the annual White Ribbon march in Lakemba. White Ribbon is Australia’s only national, male-led campaign to end men’s violence against women. Every year, on 25th November, it observes the International Day of the Elimination of Violence against Women by encouraging communities to unite and march against violence against women. On 25th November 2014, at least a thousand people joined Bilal, Campsie Police, Greater Western Sydney Giants, Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and Canterbury City Council to show their support for eliminating violence against women.
Bilal and PCYC NSW are strong supporters of White Ribbon and the values they promote. Plans are already under way to make the 2015 White Ribbon march even bigger – and Bilal is out in his community garnering support to help make it happen.