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Diversity on display at NSF colleges

By Fiona West | March 23, 2023

The official theme of Harmony Week is “Everyone Belongs”, but at Navitas Skilled Futures, where belonging is put into practice every day, students and staff celebrated the week through their own theme of “sharing”.

At colleges across South West and Greater Western Sydney and Canberra, hundreds of students from many and varied backgrounds shared traditional foods, songs, dances, stories and life experiences with each other, and the wider community, throughout the week.

The national Harmony Week celebrations are led by The Department of Home Affairs from Monday to Sunday (March 20-27), which this year included United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on March 21.

Promoted as a time to celebrate multiculturalism and the successful integration of migrants into our community, Navitas Skilled Futures General Manager, Jetinder Macfarlane, said “we strive to make every week Harmony Week” at NSF colleges.

“While our migrant and refugee students come to college primarily to learn the English language and gain the knowledge and skills to help them settle in Australia, we welcome and encourage them to share experiences, customs and traditions from their homelands,” Jetinder said, “And when we ramp that up in Harmony week with thousands of students from more than 100 different countries, it is always a beautiful, colourful, harmonious celebration.”

NSF Bankstown kicked off the celebrations on Monday with a fashion parade of traditional dress, Harmony Day posters and sharing a lunch of home-cooked food, accompanied by music and songs from their native countries.

“It was certainly a morning of celebration, laughter and unity,” said Bankstown College Academic Team Leader (ATL) Aaron Caulfield. “There may have even been some karaoke!”

At Auburn College students chose to sing together, performing a fitting song they had recently learned in English: “We are Australian”. They also created a video, shared on social media, naming their favourite foods from other countries, demonstrating their appreciation of multiculturalism beyond their own heritage.

Some notable mentions were a student from Korea who loves Greek baclava, a Chinese-born student whose favourite food is Italian pizza, a student from Lebanon who could eat Thai chicken cashew nut every day, and a student from Thailand who loves fresh Japanese sushi and sashimi – even the Aussie meat pie got a mention!

At Liverpool College students created a “love heart” wall made up of their collective hands, illustrating their diversity by writing messages about their heritage, what they loved about Australia and what Harmony Day meant to them.

At Campbelltown College, staff and students went out to a community event called “Celebrating Cultures”, attended by local government, community and migrant assistance groups. Along with entertainment and lunch, the students had the opportunity to mix with other local people from a range of cultures and display Harmony Day posters made at NSF.

Three of the Campbelltown students said they had become firm friends, despite coming from different countries, backgrounds, ages and circumstances. Amo Alsheen, from Sudan, Mona Hadri, from Syria, and Souphaphone Komamavong, from Laos (above), said they loved studying the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) among students from so many different backgrounds.

“I love learning and talking in English,” said Souphaphone. “If we don’t use English we can’t talk to each other, so we help each other and we learn faster.”

With fellow NSF students at the event from Thailand, Syria, Iran, China, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Hungary, and Bangladesh, Amo agreed it was Harmony Day every day at college.

“I have six children and eight grandchildren and I have been busy looking after them and I don’t have good English, but now I have time for me to learn,” she said. “I love being around people from other countries so I make new friends and learn English better with them.”

Surmita Sinha from Bangladesh (below left) said it was the best of both worlds living in Western Sydney where there is a strong Indian community that has festivals where she can retain her cultural identity and wear her dresses, eat familiar foods and meet other migrants from Bangladesh.

“I love Australia and I have friends from Bangladesh as well as friends I’ve met at college from different countries,” she said. “It helps me to improve my English, which I need to get a job as a swimming teacher, which is what I did in Bangladesh.”

In Canberra students enjoyed a range of activities such as creating, and voting for, the most beautiful Harmony Day poster that also highlighted the 75th birthday of the AMEP, along with singing, dancing, and sharing food.

Navitas Skilled Futures Stakeholder Engagement Managers also had a busy and fun Harmony Week, with Basim Shamaon and Genevieve Lewis attending and contributing to various events with valued community partners such as Western Sydney MRC, Settlement Services International (SSI), CORE Community Services, STARTTS and FOCUS Connect.

Genevieve said it was wonderful to see so many people celebrating Harmony Week in so many ways.

“Harmony Week is always a big week for staff and students at Navitas Skilled Futures but it is really great to go out into our communities and see everyone, regardless of their background, really embracing not just the activities but the true meaning behind the week – inclusiveness, respect and belonging for everyone.”

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