By Kathy Richardson
(Ss Peter and Paul Parish Kiama Social Justice, Ecology and Peace Committee)
Around 150-200 people took the opportunity to explore Illawarra’s cultural diversity at a recent Cultural Diversity Event held on Saturday 24 August at St Peters and Paul (SSPP) Catholic Parish in Kiama.
This event was jointly organised by the SSPP Parish’s Social Justice Committee and SCARF Inc (Strategic Community Assistance to Refugee Families), a volunteer-based organisation who assist refugees granted humanitarian visas to enter Australia and who have been settled in the Illawarra.
Outside in the warm sunshine people enjoyed tasting the Ethiopian cuisine and Iraqi sweets surrounded by coloured balloons on bamboo and coloured bunting. An Aussie afternoon tea was served by the SSPP Parents and Friends in the annexe decorated with flags from different countries made by the SSPP primary school social justice group. A father of one of the primary school students performing said, “it was great to have an event that involved the parishioners, the school children and the School’s Parents and Friends and I hope this event is organised again next year.”
Fr Chris Roberts (Parish Priest) welcomed visitors and gave a prayerful reflection on valuing and respecting cultural diversity. Mayor of Kiama, Councillor Brian Petschler gave an acknowledgement of country and shared some stories reflecting his personal commitment to cultural diversity. Sharyn Mackenzie, SCARF’s Program Coordinator and co-founder, highlighted the range of programs that SCARF provides to the diverse refugee communities it supports in the Illawarra region.
In the parish hall, people seemed enthralled listening to and watching the Burmese choir and dance group and the Togolese story dancing. The small kids loved watching the Congolese hip-hop dancing (they had seen this dancing two weeks prior when Sadok visited the two schools to demonstrate hip hop dancing). SSPP Catholic primary school students sang Australian songs in harmonious acapella.
Corpus Christi Catholic High School students sang a beautiful rendition of the “Hallelujah” song made famous by the ‘Choir of Hard Knocks’. They also demonstrated their newly acquired hip hop dancing skills! Terese Ngoy sold her African Kabedi design clothes. Judi Goodwin, a local artist, displayed her paintings of women from different cultures and donated 20% of her painting sales to SCARF.
In the parish meeting room people gathered in a large circle to listen to four people of refugee background in turn talk about their personal journeys as refugees: Bainous from Sierra Leone,
Bu Meh from Kayah State, Burma, Gracia from DR Congo and De Wa from Chin State, Burma. They read stories to us from their culture, captured with beautiful illustrations in a book called ‘Traditional Tales’ published by SCARF.
Parishioners commented on the festive atmosphere of the afternoon. The Mayor’s wife, Sue Petschler said “the afternoon was inspiring.” This event was complemented by a moving liturgical powerpoint with music for Migrant and Refugee Sunday shown in Masses the same weekend.
Sharyn Mackenzie’s shared her response via this email with the Social Justice Group the day after the cultural diversity event, “Thank you so much for all the hard work you put in to make our SCARF community members feel welcome and valued yesterday. We were blessed with a beautiful day and I think all the contributors really gave their best … I felt there was a great vibe and I hope you all went home rejoicing(though exhausted!) .Thanks for giving us the opportunity to introduce some of the cultural richness of our lovely small and emerging communities from refugee backgrounds.”