Friday, 04 August 2017

Dining with sisters of diversity

Less than 30 minutes into the Women of Diversity Dinner, the floor was full with women dancing hand-in-hand as the sounds of Dahlia Dior reverberated energy and warmth around the room.

The dinner brought together more than 350 women from different cultural backgrounds – half of them newly arrived in Australia – for a joyful celebration of community harmony at the Emporium Function Centre in Bankstown on 29 July.

The Women of Diversity Dinner was instigated in 2016 by the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies (NSWJBD). This year it was coordinated by a partnership of organisations including the NSWJBD, Australia South Sea Islanders-Port Jackson, the Ethnic Communities Council of NSW, the Muslim Women's National Network of Australia, the SAHELI South Asian Women’s Network, Settlement Services International, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and the Uniting Church in Australia.

The Uniting Church worked alongside the other organisations in planning the event to bring together women from different faith and cultural perspectives who might otherwise not have the opportunity to connect.     

The venue glittered as women arrived as per invitation in “festive and colourful dress”. Guests were quick to mingle and learn about each other as conversation flowed over a shared meal interspersed with spoken and musical performances.

Keynote speaker Dr Rachael Kohn, presenter of the ABC Radio program “The Spirit of Things”, said it was often women who bridged cultural and religious divides in the community.

“I know that women inspire each other across their differences and in many cases because of them,” she said.

“If you are curious and friendly and seeking opportunities for friendship and understanding, then that is most certainly what you will find.”

Among guests were 10 women newly arrived in Australia from the Middle East who have received support from Bankstown District Uniting Church. Their attendance was sponsored by Uniting NSW.ACT

Bankstown Uniting Church member and UnitingWorld volunteer Shireen Chidiac came along with the group to assist with translation.

“One of the things the women said had impressed them about Australia is the way women are respected and encouraged and have a presence in the community in Australia,” said Shireen.

“They felt empowered by being a part of that on the night and it showed them what potential there is for them to grow.”

Australian South Sea Islander Elder Aunty Shireen Malamoo opened the night with the Acknowledgement of Country.

There were performances from Punjabna Evergreen, a Punjabi Gidha dance group, Katra, a belly dancer and A Community of Choirs who sang “There is No Fear in Love” based on John 4: 18 in five different languages.

Two women shared their personal stories. Hani Abdile, a Somaili woman who arrived in Australia by boat shared poems she wrote while on Christmas Island and family lawyer Mittu Gopalan spoke on the theme ‘harmony begins at home’.

During the night the women from Bankstown Uniting Church gave an impromptu performance of an Arabic song, with many joining in the singing.

Ruth Fessaha, a young woman of Ethiopian heritage also gave a powerful poetry performance.

Let us snap the stereotypes of the ‘perfect woman,’ the ‘perfect leader’.
Leave these fictions of unattainable ideals on the bookshelf and,
Give me something real to read like,
She failed, yet she got back up
She lost everything, only to gain it back.
She struggled to cope, yet she found peace.
She had little, yet cared for others’ needs.

Let us break the headlines once again,
Because great women are not new news.
And some of the greatest women
I know, aren’t even on the news.

At the end of the night, all left with raised spirits and a strong sense of belonging to each other, as sisters in diversity.

Read more about Bankstown District Uniting Church's support for refugees and the UnitingWorld campaign to get Syrian kids back to school. 

Photos: Giselle Haber Photography

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