The flag flew at half-mast over GV Health last weekend in solidarity with the people of New Zealand − specifically the Muslim community – who experienced such terrible loss on Friday in Christchurch.
Camerun Albanoi is a team leader with Adult Mental Health Service. An Albanian by birth, Mr Albanoi came to Australia in 1984.
“There is a saying, ‘if anywhere there is injustice, then justice is threatened everywhere’,” Mr Albanoi said.
“Christchurch has been a loss not only to the Islamic community in New Zealand, but also to humanity. Terrorism has no boundaries. We need to get together and share our common humanity, to confront it logically and with compassion.”
This year is the 20th anniversary of Harmony Day, and the inaugural celebration of Harmony Week, which finishes tomorrow. The week-long event has allowed more time to recognise and accommodate diversity and inclusion activities.
Harmony Day was March 21, which is also the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
This year’s Harmony Week theme was ‘Everyone belongs’, which is an important idea to reflect on in the wake of tragedies like that at Christchurch.
“It’s shocking, and we should never accept atrocities like it,” said Carmel Trimboli, who works in Adult Community Health.
“We live in a very diverse community – we’re all equal, regardless of race and religion, and need to accept and respect one another and our different beliefs. Tolerance is so important.”
More than 77000 Harmony Week events have been held in childcare centres, schools, community groups, churches, businesses and federal, state and local government agencies across Australia since 1999.
Australia is a vibrant, multicultural country, home to the oldest continuous culture of our first Australians as well as the cultures of our newest arrivals from around the world.
“We have all nationalities, races and religions at GV Health,” post-acute care co-ordinator and Aboriginal transition officer Porsha Atkinson said.
“The hospital is a welcoming space – if community members want smoking ceremonies, GV Health is open to that. Shepparton is a transient community – if we had a patient who wanted to practise their beliefs, I believe the hospital is open to allowing that to happen.”
An integrated multicultural Australia is a key part of our national identity. All people who migrate to Australia bring with them some of their own cultural and religious traditions, as well as taking on many new traditions.
Biomedical Engineering Services manager Sarwan Mudaliar is originally from Fiji. After studying in Australia he returned to Fiji, but his journey eventually led to Shepparton.
“The population here is growing, GV Health is growing and there is such a great array of people from diverse backgrounds and cultures here,” he said.
Pharmacy acting director Stephanie Chan is proud of her staff’s diversity. She is quick to point out that half of her team of 10 is multilingual.
“Two of our pharmacists speak Arabic, and three speak Chinese,” she said.
“That helps us provide services to refugees and new Australians. We take them through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, the Medicare system and that kind of thing.”
Ms Chan said that her team’s objective was to help people from diverse backgrounds to integrate and learn.
“For example, the pharmacy is very proactive about asking representatives from pharmaceutical companies to ensure they have multilingual information available for new Australians,” she said.
Harmony Week is a time to celebrate Australian multiculturalism and the successful integration of migrants into our community. Our cultural diversity is one of our greatest strengths and is at the heart of who we are.
“Shepparton is such a great place to raise a young family,” surgeon Ruwangi Udayasiri said.
“It’s extraordinarily multicultural. One of the reasons you feel so safe here when you walk down the street is that there’s such a variety of people from lots of places around the world.”
Ms Udayasiri, who hails from Sri Lanka, married a local and moved to Shepparton for the opportunities it offers. She is the only female general surgeon in the region.
“We have multicultural babies,” she said. “Our three-year-old goes to play group, and it’s fantastic – she feels very included and feels very special, but special like everyone else. It’s wonderful to be here.”
“We’re so lucky to work here at GV Health,” Mr Albanoi said.
“Our CREATE values – Compassion, Respect, Excellence, Accountability, Teamwork and Ethical Behaviour – encourages us to be accepting, inclusive and to embrace the philosophy of hope, meaning and self-discovery.”
Harmony Week is about inclusiveness, respect and belonging for all Australians, regardless of cultural or linguistic background, united by a set of core Australian values. On Harmony Day, Shepparton Uniting Church held an Interfaith Network service to unite faith communities in response to the tragic events in New Zealand.
“It can hurt your heart when you hear about something like Christchurch,” Porsha Atkinson said.
“It gives me hope to think that Australia has become so much more accepting.”
“Ignorance is everywhere, and things like Harmony Day help people to understand one another better,” Aboriginal liaison officer Andrew McKnight said.
“It’s about people coming together as one community. It’s about getting to know each other, the people in the community and identifying our similarities. It’s really important in the Goulburn Valley region – there are people from everywhere here. It’s unique for a regional area to have so many cultures.”
“Australia and New Zealand are peaceful countries,” Mr Albanoi said.
“We are all grieving at the same time – it leaves a huge impact in our hearts. In Shepparton the whole community has been very welcoming to migrants and refugees. Migrants want to integrate and become a part of our community, sending their children to school, becoming doctors, electricians, teachers.”
Carmel Trimboli agrees.
“Harmony Day is a day to come together, to stop and think, to reflect and think about human beings and life in general,” she said. “Events like Christchurch are heartbreaking, but they remind us that we’re all one – we need to come together, we’re all equal, it doesn’t matter who we are.”
Mr Albanoi is emotional as he reflects on living in Shepparton, a community he considers to be representative of Australia’s success as one of the leading multicultural countries in the world.
“In my opinion, we are an inclusive community where all are valued and empowered to participate in life - we’re very lucky,” he said.
“Australia is one of the most successful multicultural countries in the world and we should celebrate this and work hard to maintain it.”