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Social Cohesion and Integration

Social cohesion refers to the development and maintenance of positive social relationships in society. A community working toward the well-being of all its members combats exclusions and marginalisation and develops a strong sense of belonging.

Australia has a remarkable extent of social cohesion given its diversity. However, maintaining this steadiness can be a challenge. Rapid social changes, particularly in growth areas, can result in disharmony between newly arrived groups and established communities. The fear of difference and its unknown potential has a damaging effect on community relations and breeds discrimination. The threat of terrorism has brought suspicion and hostility to Australia’s Arab and Muslim communities and, families seeking refuge and asylum are depicted as ‘queue jumpers’. The expectations of the Australian ‘fair go’ mentality, seems to have given way to the reality of disharmony and caution.

The results of The Scanlon Foundation National 2015 report on mapping social cohesion found that there is a strong support for cultural diversity, with 86% agreeing that multiculturalism has been good for Australia, while sense of belonging ‘to a great extent’ declined from 73% in 2011 to 65-66% in 2013 and 2014, in 2015 it is at 69%. Interestingly the report captured the difference in attitudes between young and older Australians, this is particularly evident in the matter of national identity and cultural diversity. 65% of young adults agreed with the provision of government assistance to ethnic minorities to maintain their customs and traditions compared with 34% of middle-aged Australians.

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This study would suggest that young adults are striving for a socially cohesive Australia, where cultural differences are embraced, positive relationships are fostered and the combat of exclusion and marginalisation are of great importance. This report seems vastly different from the content littering our news outlets; sensationalised stories of disharmony, ‘stop the boats’ and other dehumanising titles lead us to believe we are a country of intolerance.

For those who oppose migration, who feel the Australian way of life is threatened by invasion from those of distant shores and that allowing those who seek refuge will hinder our own prosperity, we are a country of migrant backgrounds. Developed through the emulsion of many cultures and backgrounds. Having an ideal society does not necessitate us to be all alike, but rather appreciate our differences and create a socially cohesive and harmonious country.

Here at RMCC, we understand the importance to social harmony, we work with children from refugee and migrant backgrounds to foster positive relationships in an environment where they feel supported and included.

“The cultural wealth of the world is its diversity” (UNESCO)

(Image source: www.theguardian.com)

May 21, 2016, marked World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development.

Proceeding UNESCO's Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity in November 2001, the General Assembly of the United Nations announced May 21 as World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development.

"Affirming that respect for the diversity of cultures, tolerance, dialogue and cooperation, in a climate of mutual trust and understanding are the best guarantees of international peace and security."
(UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity)

We are encouraged to develop a deeper understanding of the values of cultural diversity and to engage with others of diverse backgrounds to learn to live together harmoniously.

Three-quarters of the world's major conflicts have a cultural dimension.
(unaoc.org)

This year UNESCO invited everyone to join the "Do ONE thing for Diversity and Inclusion" campaign. Suggesting small, personal changes can reform communities and encourage cultural diversity.

Here at RMCC, we implement programs assisting children of refugee and migrant backgrounds who are encountering disadvantage. The foundation offers Learning Support programs, Life Skill workshops and provide essential education material.

What is the one thing you can do on an ongoing basis to have universal success in the plight against racism and exclusion?

How you can do ONE thing for Diversity and Inclusion:

1. Visit an art exhibit or museum dedicated to other cultures.
2. Volunteer with an organisation working towards diversity and inclusion (volunteer with us at RMCC)!
3. Read about different religions and cultures.
4. Engage with work colleagues of different cultural backgrounds.
5. Encourage friends and loved ones to do the same.

Investing time to learn about other cultures and engage with others of diverse backgrounds does not to suggest a requirement to compare and judge, but rather to contemplate different ideas and beliefs.

In the words of one wise philosopher,
“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it” - Aristotle.

Words by Lucy Davidson

Do we need ambassadors for us to care?

Image source: www.UNHCR.org

On May 2, the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, announced the appointment of Academy Award winning actor, Cate Blanchett as a Goodwill Ambassador.

This announcement came as Blanchett returned from a mission in Jordan, where she witnessed the ongoing humanitarian support to people displaced by the conflict in Syria. In light of meeting those seeking refuge, UNHCR released a video (here) of Blanchett speaking of the importance of compassion and our innate desire to connect is what makes us human.

‘We have a deep vein of compassion …. It seems we are at a fork in the road, do we go down the compassionate road or the path of intolerance’?

Capitalising on the influence of prominent public figures plays an important role in bringing to light many of the issues NGOs, grass-roots, and many other organisations are striving to aid. It seems we need a central figure, someone who is respected, appealing and perhaps holds a connection to the cause; to inform us about what to care about and how to go about assisting if we have the inclination.

The support of an impassioned celebrity for a cause can help to reach a new audience, albeit this reach can only drive so far. Working on delivering a campaign message which genuinely touches a nerve with the public is of greater importance.

UNHCR is not alone in utilising public figures for influence, many organisation seek persuasion through these channels. Depending on their profile, interests and level of responsibilities, gaining support from prominent figures can place the organisation at the forefront of the people’s awareness and act as a liaison between audience and organisation.

When seeking local support, ambassadorship can take on a different ideal. If used to gain meaningful connections with the community, utilising local leaders and people prominent and well-respected in the industry can be of far more importance. Key ambassadors for the Asylum Seeker Resource centre located in Footscray are 2010 Australian of the year Prof. Patrick McGorry and writer, human rights advocate Arnold Zable. Likewise, youth worker, author and former refugee Abdi Aden was appointed Australian Red Cross Ambassador. These somewhat less prominent figures all aspire to achieve the same as those with notoriety, to pull public awareness and gain support for the causes they champion.

Blanchett asks the audience a poignant question ‘what type of world do we hope to live in?’, perhaps this is the reason we need public figures championing causes. Perhaps we need to be reminded of what is important; a central figure championing causes that need our focus and to highlight the issues that will define the type of world we live in.

Words by Lucy Davidson

THE HOMEWORK CLUB (Now part of our Learning Support Program)

Footscray North Primary School’s Homework Club, run by RMCC, is making a world of difference for disadvantaged children.

When I was a primary schooler homework wasn’t something I looked forward to, however there are big grins on faces as children file into the Footscray North Primary School library at 3:15, where Homework Club is about to begin. They happily greet their tutors and pull out their books ready to read.
The club, run by RMCC is part of their ‘Youth and Children’s Program’, which is aimed to primarily assist refugee children, as well as migrant children and children with learning disabilities. Refugee and migrant children often face the after-effects of trauma, language difficulties, and social isolation. Educational support is enabling these children to enjoy the same opportunities as their peers and building confidence that they can navigate a successful future. The program runs every Wednesday and Thursday afternoon for an hour, and consists of reading, homework assistance, and game time.
The session starts and I go and sit next to a boy and who is already stuck into his book – I ask him about it and he mutters a response and buries his nose in the book again. Clearly I’m distracting him from what appears to be quite the page-turner. I leave him be, remembering how no one could tear me away from Roald Dahl and Harry Potter once I was in the zone. His sister and her tutor Ella on the other hand are chatting away like old friends, as they read together. Ella, a university student, thinks everyone should volunteer if they have the chance. “I was particularly interested in this program as it deals with education and literacy specifically, subjects that I am interested in as a literature student considering teaching in the future. I also have a keen interest in asylum seeker and refugee policy, so the fact that this program was set up in part to assist these specific groups is great”, says Ella.
I move to another table where two adorable girls are working on their homework – the one next to me fills me in on all the latest playground gossip. Her tutor kindly brings her attention back to homework. Parents are sitting nearby. I have a chat with one of the mums, a lovely Ethiopian woman who really values the program for her two children.
“For the students at our Homework Club it's not so easy for them to take their homework or reading to their parents at home, as English is a second language for most of these families. I think it’s very important that we are there to lend helping hand and to reinforce and clarify the skills they are being taught in school,” says Bobby, RMCC volunteer and program coordinator.
Now its snack time and the chocolate muesli bars are a crowd favourite. The kids all seem to enjoy the one-on-one attention from their young mentors. The tutors are patient and attentive, letting the kids give it their best go, helping them sound out, work out, and give it their best go before providing constructive feedback and praise. One of the girls tells me she hates reading but is pleased to tell me all about the book she’s just finished.
Ella says the most rewarding thing about being a tutor is “seeing progress from week to week with the kids, and particularly seeing them happy and excited to read and tackle homework tasks. It’s fostering an interest in learning for these children, and providing them with an environment that supports and assists them to succeed and to enjoy the process. As someone from a low socio economic background, I have a keen understanding of the importance of education and the difficulties some children have in accessing it or being able to get the most from it.”
At the session is Kylie, Footscray North PS’s welfare coordinator. She says RMCC has been a huge help since they came on board 4 months ago. While the program has been running for 5 years, RMCC has kept it afloat, bringing in funding and more tutors.

For RMCC it’s an investment worth making. The charity is looks to expand the program to more schools in the near future.
For more information or to donate to RMCC’s programs please visit www.rmccaustralia.org.au

Words by Pania King