Harmony Day is on 21 March and celebrates Australia’s cultural, linguistic and religious diversity with the motto ‘everyone belongs’.
Harmony Day encourages all Australians to actively foster a sense of community, respect and belonging through local events and celebrations.
For the Department of Human Services, recognising and embracing diversity is crucial to its core business of making essential services accessible to all Australians.
Victoria Dias is one of the department’s Multicultural Service Officers (MSOs) based in the multicultural town of Logan in Queensland. She sees first-hand the practical impacts that acceptance and belonging have on people’s lives.
“If we believe in each other and value each other for our merits, then we can have harmony within our society,” said Victoria.
“When people feel valued and included, they can focus better on the important things like getting a job, putting their kids in school and so on. It all starts with that initial belief and respect.”
In her role, Victoria comes into contact with countless individuals and communities from non-English-speaking backgrounds.
“Logan is very diverse. We have around 218 registered communities and Logan speaks around 222 languages. So that is huge,” Victoria described.
Cultural awareness plays a big part in her life, both as a staff member and a community member.
“We provide services to all those communities and also partner up with the Logan city council to make our services accessible and flexible to different groups.
“Being open and patient is a must, but it’s very satisfying work.”
Gemechu Dembali is an MSO who migrated to Western Australia from Ethiopia in 1986. He represents the department on the Harmony Day organising committee for his local area, Mirrabooka.
“I’ve been involved with the Harmony Day committee for the last fifteen years. It’s a big event that requires a lot of preparing, organising and coming up with new activities,” Gemechu said.
With a background in anthropology and sociology, he is passionate about understanding human behaviour and drawing people together.
“Harmony Day is so important because we are bringing local school groups, community groups and businesses in the community together for one purpose,” said Gemechu.
“It’s a chance for us to assist others, understand how they approach a situation, work with each other. And this is the best we can do.
“Being with people and listening to them. Accepting people the way they are and appreciating them.”
Across the country in Geelong, Victoria, Kaled Ajaj is an MSO with a keen personal interest in the common ground between all cultures and faiths.
“I’m involved with an Interfaith Network which is a group of people from different faiths,” Kaled said.
From his work with migrant and refugee communities as an MSO, and his learnings from the Interfaith Network, Kaled is optimistic that our similarities can outweigh our differences.
“I have sat in a room with thirty faiths and we have dinner and talk about peace.
“Sharing knowledge can really help to remove misunderstandings about faiths and cultures that we’re unfamiliar with, or that seem obscure or unconventional,” Kaled reflected.
“At the end of the day, we are in one country, one people. And I believe we can live together in harmony.”