This is an exciting post. I was so lucky to have this opportunity to visit Shepparton and meet all these wonderful people! A big thanks to Helen for helping me write this one. I stayed with Helen and her husband Adrian while I was in Wangaratta. My words will be in italics and Helen's in normal font, so you know who's speaking.
Shepparton, a provincial city in the Goulburn Valley of north central Victoria, has welcomed migrants and asylum seekers for many decades. Sam Atukorala - the Ethnic Council Project Officer introduced us to the Mayor Dinny Adem, a Muslim of Albanian heritage, and deputy mayor Fern Summer. Dinny and Fern welcomed us to the Ethnic Council offices before taking us on a tour of numerous buildings of significance to several cultural groups who call Shepparton home.
I wasn't planning on heading to Shep as it wasn't on my walking route and I was worried I wouldn't have the time to go. As soon as I set off on the walk, however, I heard so many reports of the welcoming history of this town. Thank you to Sam and Mayor Adem for putting this day together at such short notice. I loved how you were so enthusiastic and proud to show me your town and its people.
Philippines House, had recently been refurbished thanks to government and council grants, and is a place where the Filipino community gathers for dancing, meals and other cultural activities. Modelled on a Filipino style building it is a source of pride and joy to the Filipino community.
Melinda and her family and friends were absolutely wonderful! We shared many, many photos and laughs! I tried on traditional Filipino costumes and we were treated to a performance of a fan dance! These women have been living in Shep for a long time and it was clear that they love it. Over coffee and cake they shared their stories, then they accompanied us to the next venue...
Africa House and the adjacent Lutheran Church buildings are new. The original Lutheran Congregation of 35 people , has, in the last few years, been boosted enormously by African refugees from North and South Sudan, Burundi, and the Congo. Purpose built to cater for the needs of the new arrivals, Africa House is a place for the community to gather, learn and enjoy their cultural heritage. The 200 seat new church is circular, bright and spacious furnished with modern, comfortable seating and banners. Wall paintings of Bible stories, depicted with African peoples, reflect the nature of the newly expanded congregation.
I was overwhelmed by this story. Lutheran communities from around Australia fundraised and helped the Shepparton Lutheran community build this wonderful place. Christine, in the picture on the left, has been a member of the church for many years. She has been delighted to welcome the African families. I love the painting in the middle, above. The many paintings on the walls of the church demonstrate a beautiful friendship between the original 35 and the new members of this community.
On to Azim Elmaz's food van for our lunch stop. An Albanian, Azim runs a restaurant and food van to provide for his family - and the greater community. He runs his food van to provide free meals five nights a week for the needy and homeless, or to provide meals on site to emergency workers involved in disaster management, whether it be flood or fire events, in nearby communities. A wonderful example of a migrant repaying his community with generosity and love.
Helen's writing says it all. Thank you Azim for this delicious food! My mouth is watering as I write this!
Mayor Dinny, a proud elder of the Shepparton Albanian community, took great pride in showing us into the oldest mosque in Victoria. The simple worship place was constructed in 1960 for the Muslim Albanians in the community. Dinny himself, as Mayor, is a role model for "strangers" becoming "Just Like Us".
Dinny had a thought about the phrase: "Multiculturalism in Australia". He said that the term is outdated. It should just be "Australia". How true!
The Gurunanak Sikh Society Temple is a large building to cater for the growing number of Sikh's , particularly from the Punjab, who are settling in Shepparton and District. From farm labourers and farm owners to professionals, the similar climate is attracting immigrants to the area. The worship area upstairs, and a large kitchen and community space downstairs enable the Sikh's to provide for any who need food, according to their religion.
There's a yellow flag out the front of the Temple. The flag lets people know that they are are welcome and they will be fed. Sometimes there are thousands of people and the Sikh community members are honoured to feed them. They believe that the divine is in everyone and by feeding a person they are also feeding a part of the divine. This is similar to other religions, including Christianity where it's believed that God is in all of us.
I think this is beautiful. Throughout my journey I have looked for the good in everyone and that's what I've found. If we believe that there is a certain divinity or part of God in everyone then we know how to treat them, with dignity and respect. For me, I find it so enriching and joyful to know that if you're willing to see, listen and learn, you find the good in everyone.
Tea and food partaken, we farewelled the "People Just Like Us" who had shared their religions, cultures and friendships with us for the day. We embraced them and their community as a place of Welcome.
Thank you to Shepparton, especially Sam and Dinny for organising everything. Thank you to all the people who participated and even those who came to say hello at the beginning. Thank you to the Sikh, Muslim and Lutheran communites and also the ladies at the Philippines House. Thanks to Azim Elmaz and his staff. Another thank you goes to my dad and friend Ed for driving up and spending the day with us. A big thank you to Adrian and Helen Twitt for driving me to and from Shep and helping me write this blog.