Ignite a conversation to connect

We all learnt a lot in 2020.

Practical learnings such as social distancing, coughing into our elbows, and navigating Zoom calls. But we also learnt, or were reminded of, what is really important – our health and time with loved ones.

During the COVID-19 pandemic I found it difficult to adapt to the lack of connection – personal not digital. I realised how much of a difference it can make just seeing people, shaking a hand, or giving a hug. For me, that personal connection is really valued and important.

The theme of Harmony Day this year is Everyone Belongs. True belonging can mean different things for each of us but there is a strong link to connection. Belonging is defined as a unique and subjective experience that relates to a yearning for connection with others.

So, how can we build connections and a sense of belonging for all? Occasions such as Harmony Day or Reconciliation Week, and events that encourage people to come together and connect, are a great starting point.

But they are just the start.

These occasions are opportunities for this very connection, the start of building relationships.

Relationships are so important. I love to have a joke and I find it helps people connect. To use and see humour can be a way to share heritage, culture, religion and personal story.

A personal story and relationship can put a lens over facts. There are stereotypes of Aboriginal people and of most cultures. My experience has shown me that regardless of what people say, do or read, there are people who think the facts about Aboriginal history are not true.

I invite you to consider others’ personal journeys and walk in their footsteps because what you may see or hear will influence you. If we really listen and understand personal stories, we take the first step to understanding.

A humanity kicks in when we sit and listen and have an open mind to learn. When a diverse group of people are invited to the table to share their insights and perspective, we all learn.

The Harmony Week website tells us the week is about inclusiveness, respect and belonging for all Australians, regardless of cultural or linguistic background, united by a set of core Australian values.

I’d like to go beyond that. March 21, Harmony Day, coincides with the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

It's difficult to mark such a day as an Aboriginal person. Growing up in Moree on to Gamilaraay land I certainly experienced racism. I consider my mum and family members who weren’t even allowed to attend the public pool. When I think about this, and in such recent history, I am reminded that it is our learning and education that is so important.

From early on I knew I wanted to be a teacher. I had a patience and a desire to share learnings with others, to help people grow in understanding. I love my job working as an Education Officer for the Catholic Schools Office. I could be one person and teach a class of kids, but I have 58 Catholic schools full of amazing classrooms. That’s a lot of young minds to work with, to grow their understanding and impact their own journey.

Everyone has their own journey and we're always adding to it. I love that every day is a new day to share our stories, a new day to learn from each other.

I do understand why some people feel like they could offend others by asking questions, but I ask you, how else are we going to learn without asking questions?

If you don't know something, there's no harm in asking. It's about sharing our knowledge and learning together.

This Harmony Day I hope we come together and share our knowledge. It's a chance for everyone to sit, stop and listen to others’ stories. We can talk and celebrate others, regardless of background, colour, language, religion.

We can ask questions of others, and we should ask ourselves difficult questions. We talk about Australia being the lucky country but for some people it's not. Ask yourself what you believe cultural sensitivity to be and what you can do to be an ally to others. How can we change our mindsets or help others to learn about our own mindset?

Everyone belongs – let us really think about what this means and question, do we all belong? This Harmony Day let’s have a conversation and connect with each other. I’ll bring the tea and lemon myrtle cake and I hope you will bring some baklava or dumplings.

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