A woman who thought she had lost a number of valuable family rings has re-discovered them thanks to a charity clothing drive and the kindness of a family of asylum seekers.
The woman, who asked not to be identified, had donated some socks — forgetting her priceless heirlooms were hidden inside — to a clothing drive for refugees and asylum seekers in Canberra.
The event, organised by the volunteer organisation Canberra Refugee Support, was run to ensure those on limited means in the refugee community had enough warm clothing ahead of winter.
Iraqi asylum seeker Inas Alkhazraji had taken the opportunity of the charity drive to pick up some brand new socks for her husband, Sameer Alazraqi.
But, as he went to open the socks, Mr Alazraqi noticed something odd about the package, which was wrapped in cardboard.
“It was heavy, so I just [turned] the socks upside-down and something small, a red pouch or sack falls out,” he said.
“When I opened it, I found some rings, there were gold and white gold and there were diamonds and beryls and crystals.”
The pair — who fled Iraq in 2014 — were shocked at the find, and rang a friend, a volunteer with the refugee support group, to let her know someone had lost some very valuable possessions.
“It was a fortune, very expensive rings. Thousands of dollars,” Mr Alazraqi said.
“Later [our friend] told us they found initials there on the rings and a date, so it must be very important — people memorialise some event in their lives with these rings.
“If one puts themselves in the position of the people who lost them, they would be very sad, because it cost a lot of money and they don’t belong to us.”
‘Overwhelmed’: Woman who lost rings from war-torn Europe
Canberra Refugee Support only holds clothing drives occasionally, when they perceive a need in the community.
The group is small and entirely run by volunteers — they help refugees and those new to Canberra find services, learn where they can get affordable food, and begin to learn English.
“We characterise it as ‘good neighbour support’, because when they arrive they don’t know anything or where to find things,” volunteer support coordinator Jackie Wenner said.
Despite the informal nature of the clothing drive, one of the organisers had kept detailed information on who had donated clothing that day.
They tracked down the owner, who did not want to be identified, but who told them she was “overwhelmed” on learning about the mistake, and how close she came to losing her precious possessions forever.
Her daughter, Michele, said her elderly mother had grown anxious after her home was robbed.
Worried it would happen again, she had hidden some of her more valuable items in a pair of unopened socks, tucked away in a drawer.
Over time, she had forgotten where they were, and spent about a year wondering what had become of them.
Michele said the rings were priceless to her mother, and she was very grateful to the couple for returning them.
“Her engagement ring, which had belonged to Dad’s mother who died before Mum had a chance to meet her, and two rings of Mum’s own mother had huge sentimental value for her,” she said.
Michele said her mother would have been unlikely to find the jewellery without the strange turn of events.
“If she had just put those socks in any old charity bin they would never have been able to contact her,” Michele said.
“The jewellery was only insured for theft from the house. So a loss like this would have been irretrievable.”
Michele said her mother’s fears of burglary, and her desire to keep her precious things hidden, came from her early experiences living through the war in Europe, and her own journey to Australia as a refugee more than 60 years ago.
“It really is understandable — she comes from a family that lost everything in the war, they came over to Australia to start a new life as well,” she said.
“It reaffirms our strong belief in how right it is to open our gates to such lovely people to be a part of our community.”
Mr Alazraqi said they were delighted the rings had found their way home, and they were still shocked by their bizarre find.
“Even if we found anything in the street, in the mall, beside a tree, beside a car, we should announce it,” he said.
“We should say that ‘we have found this’, whether it is $1 million or it is a small toy for a kid, we should announce it.”