20 Mar Harmony Day: How three mums found strength in diversity and become best of friends
Three mums, from three different countries, speaking three different languages. Brought together by their love for their kids.
This Harmony Day, all across Uniting, we’re celebrating the cultural and linguistic diversity that makes us great.
Three friends who will be particularly looking forward to the celebrations are mums Shazia, Irfana and Fatim.
The trio were introduced to one another through Uniting’s HIPPY (Home Interaction Program for Parents and Youngsters) program in South Western Sydney. The two-year, home-based, early learning and parenting program provides tutors to families to teach then educational activities together in their own home.
Shazia, Irfana and Fatim all got involved when their children were small and went on to become tutors and later find further employment thanks to the program. They also created a lasting bond that they travelled half way around the world to find.
Helping the children first
Like most mums, Fatim – whose first language is Arabic – arrived 15 years ago and was driven by a desire to ensure her kids had the best start in life. She joined HIPPY because she wanted to help her young children get a head start in understanding how the education system works in her new home country.
“You put big expectations on yourself as a mum and want give your kids the best,” she reflects. “But our family hadn’t been to school in Australia so I didn’t really know how to give them that.”
“I’m Assyrian – from Iraq – and everything is different there, so I wanted my kids to go to HIPPY to understand how education in Australia works.”
Irfana agrees. “With the changes happening when we arrived in a new home, you feel like you don’t really know how to organise your children’s lives. But HIPPY showed us how to explore activities with our children, to read the books and stories together.”
“My son has a speech delay, so HIPPY helped him to learn and gain confidence,” she says.
Feeling part of a community
Importantly, the HIPPY program was a lifeline not just for the children but the Mums too. Though all three women come from different cultural backgrounds and have different first languages, the friendship they share is irreplaceable.
As Fatim reflects, “The first time you hear about HIPPY, you think it’s just for your kids. But after that you realise it’s much more.”
“I went to university here and got a degree in biomedical science and a job, but the part that was missing in my life was community,” she says.
Shazia is Hindi and arrived in Australia 10 years ago, while Irfana is Bosnian and settled here 20 years ago as a refugee. The friends agree that the social aspect of the program is just as important as the educational opportunities it offers.
Irfana – who refers to Shazia as her ‘Multicultural Mum’ – reflects, “It helped me socialise because I was very isolated. I made friends with other mums and built very strong friendships with people like Shazia. We now look after each other.”
“The most important thing is you’re not alone,” she says. “We plan excursions together, we have picnics, celebrate birthdays – go to the library and galleries. You know you can always knock on someone’s door. It’s more like a family.”
“It’s good that there’s a program that helps the parents as well as the children in the community,” Shazia agrees. “When I first came to Australia I didn’t have any friends, and now, through HIPPY, I have lots of friends and I know everyone in the community. I am really grateful.”
Finding strength in diversity
For all three women, the strength that came from the cultural diversity found at HIPPY is something they’ll always remember.
“It’s really good for children from all different backgrounds to come to our playgroup because they can teach each other things that they may not be able to learn at home – and then pass those skills on to their parents,” reflects Irfana.
Fatim continues, “You may have a tutor who is Australian and speaks English, someone who is Vietnamese and does not know English very well or an Assyrian tutor who speaks Arabic.
“It’s the same with the kids. We don’t separate them, we bring together kids with disabilities, kids who are just beginning to learn English, those born in Australia, lower socioeconomic families, upper socioeconomic families. And it all comes together because all the kids are doing one thing. We are having harmony day every week here!”
Why Harmony Day matters – Some facts and figures
Celebrating Harmony Day is important to us at Uniting because respecting and welcoming individual difference is core to both Uniting and the Uniting Church. We welcome people exactly as they are.
- Around 49% of Australians were born overseas or have at least one parent who was.
- Apart from English, the most common languages spoken in Australia are: Mandarin, Arabic, Cantonese, Vietnamese, Italian, Greek, Tagalog/Filipino, Spanish and Hindi.
- More than 170 Aboriginal languages are spoken in Australia today.
- One in five Australians have experienced race-hate talk.
- 20% of Australians have reported discrimination on the basis of their skin colour, ethnic origin or religion.
- 86% of Australians support actions to tackle racism.
(Source: Australian Human Rights Commission)
- Uniting has pledged its support to the Australian Human Rights Commission campaign, ‘Racism. It stops with me’
- Uniting employs around 17%, some 1,526 culturally diverse employees who speak a language other than English
- Our largest cultural staffing groups are people from Nepal, the Philippines and India
- 273 of our employees identify as Aboriginal
- On average Uniting supports 21% Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) clients and 7 % Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients.
Get in touch
Feeling inspired and want to make a positive difference? Find out how you can join the Uniting team here.
For more information on how Uniting celebrates cultural and linguistic diversity, call 1800 864 846 or email us.