Three diverse personal stories
Amiel Nubaha, Susan Moylan-Coombs, and Nora Amath shared their personal stories at the dialogue, where they spoke on the need for education, trust and forgiveness around the theme of building stronger communities.
The seed for the dialogue sprouted when Barbara Lawler, an Initiatives of Change elder, and Francine Berabose, a postgraduate student in international development, reviewed their efforts around community-building events over the past year. They felt the time was right for more live interaction and engagement among different communities. (Read about Barbara and Francine’s long-term mentor-mentee relationship here.)
“When the flyer was designed, on the theme of ‘Community Trust Building: What does it take? What do we need?’ went out, it stirred up a flurry of interest,” said Lawler, formerly a full-time staffer at the Australian Broadcasting Organisation. “Organisations offered to co-host with us, and they published the event through their networks.” By the time 31 August came around, the co-hosting organizations included Reconciliation Queensland, the Rwanda Association of Queensland, the Islamic Women’s Association of Australia, Brisbane Multicultural Arts Centre, and Just Peace Queensland.
The event focused on hearing and understanding the personal stories of the three community leaders who took part, linking these to the broader narrative of Australia as a nation and a society of diverse peoples.
Susan Moylan-Coombs, an Indigenous broadcaster who ran as an Independent in the 2019 Federal election, told of her experience, as one of the Stolen Generation, of meeting her birth-mother when in her 20s, and her father in her 40s. She shared her vision for the future of an Australia in which First Nations peoples, those from other places who have been here for generations, and more recent migrants all learn to respect and understand one another, sharing knowledge of where our ancestral links and our family bloodlines go around the world.
Reflecting on the past history of relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, she noted, “For many Indigenous people, the notion of reconciliation hasn’t been something everyone has signed up to. It has sometimes been a bit of a dirty word for a lot of communities. It’s a work in process. It’s a ‘getting to know you.’ It’s also been about educating non-Aboriginal people in this country, because you weren’t taught [about Australian Indigenous history] in school.”
Nora Amath, who works at the Islamic Women’s Association of Australia in Queensland, told of fleeing Vietnam with her family at the age of four to escape persecution from the Communist regime. A member of the Muslim minority group known as the Cham, she grew up to become a respected scholar in Islamic studies. Among her many community roles, she serves as secretary on the board of Islamic Relief Australia, the largest Islamic humanitarian aid agency in the world.
When the 9/11 attacks in New York happened, Amath was living in the bushland suburb of Capalaba in the Redlands of Brisbane. At the time when their homes were built, Nora and her neighbors - none of whom were Muslim - had decided not to erect any fences. Many of their children were around the same age and played together; the no-fence approach meant that they could easily move around between their homes.
After the attacks, one of Amath’s first fears was that fences would go up. She waited, but it didn’t happen - because trust had already been built. As a result of this deep affirmation from her neighbours, and frustrated by how Muslims were being negatively portrayed in media and political discourse, Nora decided to go out and meet as many non-Muslims as she could to share her story of what it means to be Muslim and how her life is informed by her surrender to God.
Nubaha, President of the Rwandan Association of Queensland, spoke on the themes of the past, family, and sense of belonging. Born of Rwandan parents in a Tanzanian refugee camp in 1994, the year of the Rwandan genocide, he described how his parents had struggled for survival with five children, arriving in Australia as refugees in 2009.
“We all have our particular narratives,” he said. “The challenge is to provide alternatives to those narratives, which will help heal the past. More violence, taking up arms, is the result of impatience and frustration, but all it does is trap us in a cycle of violence and revenge. Nobody wins. It takes great courage to reverse that cycle so that everyone wins.
“For me, that means forgiving the wrongdoers before they ask. Regarding Rwanda, I’ve put my life at risk to advocate that, because forgiveness is vehemently opposed by some of my compatriots. However, it is what we need.”
“It can be an awakening”
The event, hosted by Griffith University’s Centre for Interfaith & Cultural Dialogue, was facilitated by David Vincent, IofC Australia’s community engagement manager, with Francine Berabose and Daryl Lingwoodcock, a First Nations community leader and prison chaplain
“We’re grateful for the many groups that came on board with this event, and we look forward to further collaboration,” said Lawler. For now, that looks like some focused work with Moylan-Coombs that will help IofC Australia develop values-based strategies for truth telling and healing to underpin the Treaty and constitutional change campaigns, a Creators of Peace circle with Amath and a group of women from different faiths and cultural backgrounds, and some youth outreach with Nubaha.
Reflecting on the question of how Australia can change, Moylan-Coombs suggested, “It doesn’t have to be a fight. It doesn’t have to be a revolution. It can be an awakening of understanding and compassion, with a desire for redemption and restitution...a better future for all our children and grandchildren to inherit.”
- IofC Australia is working with community groups to organize story-sharing events around Australia. For more about our approach, see the latest news from Australians Sharing a New Story.