Image: The Ipswich Harmony Day Festival featured performers from dozens of cultures. Credit: Daniel Hodgson.
Local leaders from Rwanda, Syria, Tibet and Taiwan united in peace prayer yesterday in front of hundreds gathered at Brisbane’s Harmony Day Festival in Springfield Central.
The festival, funded by the Ipswich City Council and organised by Queensland non-government organisation The World Harmony Society, was one of many events held across the country to promote cultural respect and diversity.
Ipswich Mayor Paul Pisasale said he hoped the festival would give locals a taste of food and culture from across the community.
He said there were 115 different nationalities and 84 different languages represented in the Ipswich area, and that alone should be celebrated.
But other speakers took the chance to instead speak of devastating events within their home countries that were still impacting their lives in Australia.
Rwandan Diaspora of Queensland president Emmanuel Karekezi said Rwandans were still coming to terms with the death of nearly one million of their people nineteen years after the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
As the country approaches the United Nation’s April 7 commemoration day, Mr Karekezi said the process of reconciliation and forgiveness between Rwandans and the rest of the world was ongoing.
Meanwhile Sam Jedid from the local Syrian community called for Australia to remain aloft from the civil war currently raging in his country.
“My message is to please stop interfering with Syria,” Mr Jedid said.
“We want to live in peace and harmony like we used to, but we can’t with outside involvement.”
World Harmony Society president Shan Ju Lin said an important aspect of Harmony Day was encouraging Australians to become more aware of what was happening in other parts of the world.
“While we are living comfortably in Australia, in some other countries people are living in fear,” Ms Lin said.
“That’s why we have to create these opportunities for people to come together to understand each other… this way we can promote social harmony, to reduce conflict and cultural misunderstanding.”
Discrimination at home
Torres Strait Islander Albert Sagigi was at the festival with his wife’s family, all Ethiopian. They were offering festival-goers free traditional Ethiopian coffee in the hope of attracting some genuine interest in their culture.
Mr Sagigi said Australians tended to have a stereotypical view of Ethiopia and its people.
“You basically say poverty and a lot of people instantly think Ethiopia, but it’s got a lot of things similar to Australia,” he said.
“The landscape is similar, with both rainforests and desert and the people are very distinct, proud people.”
Mr Sagigi said both he and his wife Tirsit Beneberu had experienced forms of discrimination and racism here.
Mr Sagigi said he recently quit a job because he and a friend were subject to racist comments from a co-worker.
But he said people of other nationalities also perpetuated some of the discrimination his wife and her family experienced.
“I’ve seen racism from members of the Sudanese community against the Ethiopian community and vice versa,” he said.
“For example, I know some Ethiopian taxi drivers in Brisbane who are often sent to the back of taxi ranks so they miss out on fares when they actually have waited long enough to be at the front of the line.”
Ms Lin said she hoped the festival would go some way towards combating racism and thus, discrimination.
“I think when racism or conflict happens it’s partially because people don’t understand each other’s culture.”
“There has to be more of a link between mainstream society and the multicultural community. People really appreciate it when others attempt to know their culture, and that appreciation creates harmony.”
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