ADJOURNMENT;Living in Between: Diversity Education through Storytelling Project – 11 Sep 2012

Tonight I rise to speak about the Living in Between: Diversity Education through Storytelling project. This is a project of the Tasmanian Centre for Global Learning in partnership with Hobart College Students Against Racism, the Tasmanian Polytechnic and the Alcorso Foundation. I am a very strong supporter of the Tasmanian Centre for Global Learning, and Hobart College is the college that I attended.

The Hobart College group Students Against Racism has 35 members, most of whom have come to Tasmania as humanitarian entrants from countries as diverse as Sudan, Afghanistan and Bhutan. They share music, food and stories about their new lives in Australia, the positives and negatives, the pains and the pleasures. Students Against Racism was formed in 2008 by Hobart College teacher Gini Ennals. Gini has worked with students to develop a presentation that explains why they left their homelands, the journey that brought them to Australia and the lives they are leading now. This group wanted to take a proactive approach to racism. They felt that the racism they encountered was the result of lack of understanding about why asylum seekers, refugees and migrants were coming to Australia.

Living in Between has developed a series of workshops for school groups that involve performances and activities. The program encourages students to engage with issues of culture and diversity. Many students who have experienced some sort of discrimination and felt like outsiders find that they can empathise with the stories of the college students. In 2009 the group won the Tasmanian Human Rights School Award for reaching out to build understanding of people from different cultures. The award was the beginning of the group’s partnership with the Tasmanian Centre for Global Learning, TCGL, which created the award. The TCGL works extensively with schools on improving human rights and social justice education. The group also won an Amnesty human rights innovation grant that has allowed them to commission a short documentary about the group and their groundbreaking work. It was a great pleasure for me to be asked in April this year to launch the DVD, which I did at Huonville High School in the south of Tasmania.

The program for Living in Between: Diversity Education through Storytelling was trialled in southern Tasmania during 2011 at a number of schools, including Cygnet Primary School, Huonville High School, Kingston High School, Cosgrove High School and St Aloysius Catholic College. The 2011 development of the program and trials was funded by the Tasmanian Community Fund and the Sidney Myer Fund. This year the program has received funding from the Australian government’s Department of Immigration and Citizenship through the Diversity and Social Cohesion Program.

The Australian government is committed to addressing issues of cultural, racial and religious intolerance by promoting respect, fairness, inclusion and a sense of belonging for everyone. We believe that strong social cohesion is best developed by projects that bring all Australians together and, in particular, create connections across the community. That is exactly what this program does. The government funding will allow the program to be run at a further four schools and will also provide for the creation of a post-school group, which will be of Students Against Racism alumni. These students will be available to provide one-hour presentations to schools and other organisations.

While most members of the group arrived in Australia as humanitarian entrants, some other students have joined the group because they have a desire to do something about the racism and discrimination that they have witnessed. The college students made three 90-minute visits to each of the participating schools. All sessions were facilitated by English as an additional language teacher and Students Against Racism coordinator Gini Ennals. A key aspect of the visits was the creation of small groups comprising a humanitarian entrant college student as the group leader with two or three school students. These groups worked together over the course of the visits to provide the opportunity for building closer relationships.

Activities and discussions undertaken by the groups over the three visits covered all aspects of the refugee experience. They examined culture, including how it is defined, and ancestry. As well, they looked at how certain aspects of culture such as language, religion and music are shared. Participants also looked at different stages of the journey from the homeland: why people had to leave their homeland, leaving it, the travel, the arrival, the ‘living in between’, when migrants are learning about Australian culture but have not yet become comfortable with it, and their experiences now. With time, the new culture becomes more familiar and they embrace it while still observing the culture of their birthplace.

The host school participants had the opportunity to get to know a refugee personally as well as to examine issues such as the value of possessions and the experience of dispossession. In addition, they had the opportunity to discuss international migration and the reasons people are forced to leave their homelands. Students also explored the differences between the definitions of refugees, migrants and asylum seekers and the concept of boat people, as well as the refugee process. There was also discussion of Australia’s international responsibilities under United Nations conventions. Students explored the needs of new arrivals and the challenges they face while settling into a new country. Racism was discussed, including comparing racism with other forms of discrimination and looking at how racism can be confronted both by individuals and collectively.

Students have responded to the program in a number of ways, including through art and writing poetry and essays as well as making videos. Students at Kingston High School, which is very close to my office, baked a ‘We Can Make a Difference’ cake, complete with a green-and-blue icing map of the world. The program has received extensive positive feedback from both students and teachers. I would like to take this time to share some of the feedback from teachers and students involved in the program. One teacher from Huonville High School said, ‘Without doubt the students made some extraordinary progress towards becoming far more knowledgeable, tolerant, understanding and compassionate as a result of their participation in the Living in Between project.’ When asked what they had learnt from the program, one of the students from Cosgrove High School said, ‘I got a better understanding of racism and how awful it is. To respect everyone and treat them equally. I learnt that people from other countries are more like me than what I thought they were.’ A student from Kingston Primary School said they learnt not to be racist and that it does not matter what you look like, it is what is on the inside that counts. I would also like to share some comments from one of the humanitarian entrant students about their involvement in the program. When asked if they thought the program had been effective in educating Tasmanians about the experiences of refugees, she said, ‘Yes, because it helps them to build understanding. The comments and feedback show that it makes people here realise that they take things for granted, like education, which was difficult in the refugee camp.’ I think those comments provide a good summary of what this program can achieve and why it is important for students to participate. Our youth are our future and we need to give them the skills and understanding to lead respectful, tolerant lives and pass those values on to future generations.

In closing, I would like to heartily congratulate everyone involved in the Living in Between: Diversity Education through Storytelling program. It is a strong partnership between the Tasmanian Centre for Global Learning, Hobart College and the Alcorso Foundation. They are doing a wonderful job in providing this resource to the schools involved and I thank them all most sincerely for that. I would also like to thank the schools that are involved for taking on this program with such enthusiasm. Many of the students and teachers have spoken to me personally about being involved in this and, as I have already alluded to with some of the quotes from people, how much of a difference it has made to them. Last but not least, I would like to thank the many, many supporters of the Tasmanian Centre for Global Learning. A number of politicians from all levels of government support this organisation. It is very important that organisations like this have the support of politicians and the broader community and that people get to hear about some of the amazing things they are doing to help make life easier for a number of people that have come to Australia.