Assefa Bekele was born in Ethiopia. That’s not unusual in Blacktown, where he works as a Multicultural Community Liaison Officer for the NSW Police Force. Some 37 percent of local residents were born overseas.
In 2009 and 2010, Assefa led a joint initiative with IofC to organize Life Matters Workshops in Western Sydney. Ever since, he has been hoping for more, to continue developing community leaders with integrity who can help build positive relationships in that area.
In August Assefa got his long-awaited workshop, hosted by IofC with partner organisations, SydWest Multicultural Services and the NSW Police. Held down the coast at Gerringong, 14 young people of various ethnic backgrounds went from Blacktown along with three members of the Rotaract Club of Macquarie University. A team of 12 facilitators from Sydney and Melbourne was joined by three Blacktown youth workers, who had helped with the selection process.
Identity, relationships, forgiveness, creative solutions to conflict, change and commitment... these were some of the themes packed into the weekend workshop. A poignant moment came when a participant asked what he could do to resolve a conflict with his brother, to whom he had not spoken since they clashed. He resolved to fix things up with his brother (and has since done it).
One of the Melbourne facilitators, Daniel Haile Michael, told of the action he and five friends of African descent had taken in response to racism they had experienced at the hands of the Victorian Police. Widely reported in the media and warmly commended by Victoria's Chief Commissioner of Police, their initiative has led to the creation of a new department focusing on relationship-building with multi-cultural communities.
Five indigenous young people were brought to the workshop by Darren Ivey, Community Engagement Officer at the Aboriginal Child and Family Centre. For him, the weekend had underlined the importance of indigenous and other ethnic communities connecting and working together for the needed change of attitudes in Australia.
In acknowledging all those who had made the event possible, Assefa Bekele gave thanks to God “for bringing us to this point” and expressed his hope for further workshops. He has already written the Life Matters coordinators asking for two in 2015, involving African and Aboriginal youth.
-- Rob Wood, Melbourne