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When two worlds connect for cultural understanding

Parents from Australia’s oldest and newest cultures have been brought together in an initiative that aims to foster tolerance and understanding.

Parents from Menindee Central School meet parents at Belmore Boys High

Mothers from Menindee Central School join mums at Belmore Boys High School to understand different cultures in the community.
Credit: Steven Siewert

Aboriginal mothers from Menindee Central School travelled this week to Sydney’s Belmore Boys High School to meet with Muslim and migrant mums from that school community.

The initiative is the brainchild of Menindee Central School principal Fiona Kelly and Belmore Boys High School principal Hala Ramadan.

The two principals met through the City Country Alliance, which aims to encourage students to embrace and better understand different cultures in the community.

Miss Ramadan said she wanted parents from both schools to appreciate the common ground between cultures.

“We’re focused on heart; not skin colour or religion,” she said. “People always look at differences but we have many commonalities in our traditions and culture.

“We want to build understanding because this leads to a better society and education improves harmony.”

Connecting with community

Ms Kelly said the lack of diversity in Menindee meant many residents had negative perceptions about Muslims or people from non-English-speaking backgrounds fuelled by how they were portrayed in the media.

“I realised that part of the issue is what the students experience at home, so we need to change some of the parents’ attitudes, too,” Ms Kelly said.

“Hala and I are both committed to really connecting with our community and that starts with respect.”

Likewise, Miss Ramadan said her school community had limited exposure to country life and to Aboriginal Australians.

The mums met and mingled, toured Gallipoli Mosque in Auburn and feasted on Middle Eastern fare.

Respect for diversity

Belmore Boys High mum Elvedina Seho-Boudellaa said it was special to learn about Aboriginal culture and to “understand that everyone is the same but has different looks or beliefs”.

“I always remember my mum would say, ‘If you respect your beliefs, you will respect the beliefs of others’,” she said.

Senada Jerebicanin said it was important for parents to role-model to their children how interesting it was to learn about other cultures.

Mother-of-six Saimul Hussein has participated in many of Belmore Boys High training programs for parents, including floristry, and after studying for a Certificate IV in educational support for 12 months she is now employed at the school as a teachers’ aide.

Schools Spectacular reward

Every year Menindee Central School rewards well-behaved students with tickets to the Schools Spectacular and a trip to Sydney.

“I thought, ‘Why don’t we use the opportunity to also thank the mums and bring them with us’,” Ms Kelly said.

Ms Kelly said she hoped it would become an annual event and encourage mothers to engage more with their children’s learning.

The Menindee mothers group, many of whom play in a local women’s rugby league team called the Twisted Sistas, were impressed by the cultural diversity of Belmore Boys High School where 98% of students are from a non-English-speaking background and 37 languages are spoken.

Menindee Aboriginal Education Officer Amanda King teaches the Paakintji language to Years 7 and 8 students and was “a bit jealous” that so many languages were spoken at Belmore Boys while many Aboriginal languages were at risk of dying out.

Sabrina Nauer came to Menindee from Samoa 18 years ago and respected the spiritual dimension of the exchange. “I just love it. Everyone was so easygoing, it was good to see into the spiritual world.”

The Minister for Education, Rob Stokes, said cultural exchanges benefited schools and their wider communities.

“We have Aboriginal mums sharing their lives with Muslim mums, and linking up the city and country. We all learn when we understand different cultures,” he said.

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