Podcast host: Sarah Strauven

Sarah Strauven is a psychologist and narrative therapist. Specialising in refugee mental health and complex trauma, she worked alongside people seeking asylum for ten years in Belgium. Her doctoral research explored grassroots community initiatives in Australia through which people with and without refugee experience co-created a shared world through narrative practices. Sarah is currently a research fellow in post-disaster mental health at The University of Melbourne. She is passionate about translational research to support community recovery and improve access to care for marginalised groups. She also maintains an independent practice, Liminal Spaces www.liminalspaces.net.au

The podcast series

We invite you to embark on a journey through a mini podcast series hosted by Sarah. In each episode, Sarah engages with individuals involved in grassroots community events that share refugee stories to create awareness and foster reflection and positive action.

Through these dialogues, which extend from Sarah’s in-depth research, you will gain valuable perspectives on the experiences and learnings of those sharing their personal stories and others creating platforms to amplify diverse voices within their communities.

This mini-series offers a unique opportunity to reflect on the power of storytelling in fostering inclusive communities. It invites you to explore how each of us can contribute to creating a shared home in this world.

Tune in and join us in this thoughtful and inspiring exploration.


In this episode, we talk with Sarjoh Bah, who resettled in Australia from Sierra Leone and has dedicated himself to supporting refugee communities and bridging gaps to improve service-delivery systems. He is a founding member and chair of Fulbe Australia and is frequently invited to share his experiences as a guest speaker. In our conversation, we delve into Sarjoh’s insights as a storyteller, the ethical considerations and nuances of engaging with refugee narratives and the importance of developing listening skills. (36:49)


In this episode, we talk with André Dao, whose parents came to Australia in the early 1980s as refugees from Vietnam. In his widely acclaimed debut novel Anam, he explores memory, intergenerationality and family legacy. André is also one of the coordinators of the award-winning oral history project “Behind the Wire”, which sheds light on the experiences of detained asylum seekers and refugees in Australia. In our conversation, we explore André’s principles in documenting these powerful stories, the importance of capturing unexpected acts of resistance, and the profound impact these conversations have had on his life. (36:22)


In this episode, we talk with Di O’Neil, who, now enjoying her retirement after a career as a social worker in child protection, continues her advocacy for children’s rights as a member of Grandmothers for Refugees. We discuss her motivations, the importance of community conversations and the insights she’s gained from her work. (20:51)

Sarah’s doctoral research


In this thesis, I looked at Australian grassroots community initiatives where people with refugee experience shared their stories with people from the established community, most without refugee experience, who listened to them. More specifically, I sought to understand how “ordinary” people are responding to the problems of refugees through narrative practices. For this, I foregrounded an understanding of these problems as existential, consisting of experiences of worldlessness and superfluity.

Through a critical, poststructural perspective and interview-based inquiry, I explored how narrative practice in storytelling can support people as they resettle and build their lives. I argued that definitional ceremony, in particular, is a powerful practice because it provides people with refugee experience the opportunity to present themselves on their own terms to others in the community. I discussed the myriad ways narrative practice supports the crafting and recounting of preferred selves. When definitional ceremonies turn listeners into active and responsive witnesses, storytellers’ understandings of themselves and their lives are validated. On the grounds that definitional ceremonies are constitutive of identities and worlds, I argued that they are political and therefore have value in the pursuit of social change at the local level. Through the lens of definitional ceremony, I suggested a process-oriented approach to storytelling that promotes negative capability, highlights the significance of communitas and considers the principle of an aesthetics of existence to guide and sustain grassroots action.

This research introduced possibilities for anyone seeking to create storytelling events that centre the interests of people with refugee experience. More generally, it offers ideas to all those who seek to take relational responsibility in the way they engage with people with refugee experience and their stories. The theoretical and practical contributions of this research emphasise that small-scale and localised action, through meaningful narrative practices, can help address the existential problems that people with refugee experience face. Methodologically, academics who work from poststructural perspectives might be interested in my discussion on the transferability of narrative practices to research interviews, my development of resonance work to (re)present and analyse interview materials and my proposition to read back people’s narratives to reciprocate their time and effort and acknowledge their valuable contributions to knowledge.