Mayasa and her brother Khaled are new Aussie kids who love their home by the sea. (ABC Illawarra: Sarah Moss)
Embracing diversity is easy when your friends come from all over the world. It’s even better when your school celebrates different cultures too.
As Australia embraces diversity, children from across the globe are studying together in our public schools. With the right attitude, colour, race and economic factors disappear when children are taught to see the person within.
That’s how Bader Alshoumr, and his family from Ha’il in Syria, feel about Wollongong, where they have been for 18 months.
“After the shooting in New Zealand a lot of people came to our mosque to show support. They brought flowers and they told us, ‘You are more than welcome in our country’, so this is a good support for us,” Mr Alshoumr said.
“I have been to many countries and I think that Australia is one of the safest places for us.”
Mayasa, his eight-year-old daughter, agrees.
“I like this place because there are lots of people from different countries, and some people are from the same country I am from. That means that I can speak to them [in Arabic] and be friends with them,” she said.
Mr Alshoumr says he does not have any fear for his family, who moved here from Syria 18 months ago. (ABC Illawarra: Sarah Moss)
Seaside city celebrates cultural diversity
Mr Alshoumr has travelled extensively across the globe.
“Wollongong is one of the best cities, most beautiful cities, that I have ever been to,” he said.
His wife, Ibtisam, Sam for short, is also mother to three-year-old Khaled.
Together they live in Wollongong while Mr Alshoumr completes a PhD at the university.
Mayasa attends the local primary school, Wollongong Public, while Khaled attends pre-school just one day a week.
Many of the children at Wollongong Public School originate from countries other than Australia, but happily call Australia home. (ABC Illawarra: Sarah Moss)
Incidentally, both the University of Wollongong and Mayasa’s school environment are not that different, as both institutions cater for the cultural diversity that comes from multicultural communities.
Mayasa, who speaks fluent English and Arabic, attends Arabic school on the weekends.
The main difference being that Arabic schools are same sex so Mayasa’s weekend class is girls only.
“I learn how to write and read in Arabic … and write the numbers because some numbers are tricky to write,” Mayasa said.
“Most of my friends are Arabic but some are from a different culture. I know that one of my friends is from England, and one of them is from China and one from Iraq,” she said.
Mayasa was happy to have lots of friends from different cultures.
“If I know they are an Arabic person then I can talk to them in Arabic, but if they are English I just talk to them. If they are from a different country and they do know English I’ll talk to them in English,” she said.
School community speaks more than 50 languages
Assistant principal at Wollongong Public, Samantha Neaves, said inclusivity was important for the children.
“They learn together, are in consultation with one another, and we are most definitely encouraging the children to be collaboratively working together,” she said.
“Probably the highest cultural group within our school is the Arabic culture; we have about 76 students who are from Arabic backgrounds.
“We also have high populations of Chinese, Macedonian and Serbian-speaking children across the school.”
Mayasa wears the traditional dress for Muslim girls with the intricate colourful embroidery employed by women in Syria. (ABC Illawarra: Sarah Moss)
The school celebrates Harmony Day by encouraging pupils to bring a plate to share and wear traditional clothes.
School principal, Harold Cosier, said Wollongong Public was diverse in many different ways, not just culturally.
“We have an incredible diversity, not just of cultures but of people from all walks of life,” he said.
“We have high socio-economic families, we have refugee families, and all of the kids here see through that. They see past that.
“They don’t even bother thinking about colour, language. They look to see the person within. It’s something that we are very proud of and it’s something that we celebrate all the time.
“It’s not just for Harmony Day; it’s what our playground looks like every day.”
Khaled (left) wears the formal dress for boys and men known as a Saudi Qamis, also called Thawb or Thobe. (ABC Illawarra: Sarah Moss)
The Alshoumr family are heading back to Syria once Mr Alshoumr’s studies are complete. It’s the main reason the children are literate in Arabic and English.
“These days you need to be proficient in English to get a job [in Syria] as it is now one of the main requirements,” Mr Alshoumr said.