On Thursday 20 March 2014, the Boroondara Interfaith Network, in partnership with Swinburne Chaplaincy and Swinburne University, held a Harmony Day event for 2014. The event invited the local community and students of Swinburne University to participate in a World Café – an interactive setting for community dialogue – to explore the Harmony Day theme ‘Everyone Belongs’.
Activities on the day included visual exhibits, film-based reflections and stalls representing various student groups, promoting messages about harmony and inclusion. Over 55 attendees came together to learn about our diverse backgrounds and explore the many facets of our diversity. As part of the afternoon’s proceedings, attendees were treated to a number of musical performances and then came together for a multicultural afternoon tea.
The World Café discussion session involved seven tables that were hosted by community volunteers – five of them being Swinburne students: Mohammad Himal Khan (President of the Swinburne Islamic society), Christian King-Ortenzio (member of Christian Union), Alex Aby Eapen (Member of T Uni), and Sai Chavali (T Uni) and Joel Sam Mathew.
To set the context for the table discussions, our MC for the afternoon Rev. Newton Daddow, Chaplain at Swinburne University, interviewed two Swinburne University students regarding their own cultural heritage and experience as local community members. Amy Gilderdale, a second year Psychology and Arts students who is also a member of the Christian Union group and Karthik Ganesan, a Masters IT student provided attendees with some insight into their personal experiences of belonging and diversity in their local community. At the tables, each of the hosts posed a number of questions to the participants, inviting them to discuss the topics but also actively listen and engage in the different stories shared at the table. The questions included: What is your connection to Swinburne University , the Boroondara Interfaith Network and/or local community group? What are some of the other groups that you identify with in your life that give you an opportunity to develop your identity and make a contribution to the wider community? What are some of the common aspects of the cultures and communities that we represent that we would want to cultivate for our society?
In addition to the table discussions, Samuel Wearne (a member of Student Life) provided two beautiful Clarinet performances, which set a wonderful atmosphere for the day’s proceedings. Attendees were also introduced to Chai Junction, an Indian Student Group who served Chai tea to the tables to signify the symbolism of sitting down together to share tea and nurture the friendly and trusting environment created in such settings where we listen to one another.
At the conclusion of the formal proceedings, attendees were then invited to visit a number of stalls and exhibits that reflected the day’s theme of harmony and togetherness. The groups represented at the stalls were: Green Faith, Act for Peace, Student Life and T Uni.
The exhibits included:
- ‘Dark to Dawn: Being Creative about Depression’ by Soka Gakkai International (SGI) – a lay Buddhist movement based on teachings of Nichiren, a 13th century Japanese Buddhist priest. This was displayed for the week including the Harmony Day event and creatively presented dialogue as the first step in transforming depression and providing people with a sense of purpose and wellbeing.
- ‘Breathe’ – a video presented by Rob Bell, which invites quiet reflection on the importance of being aware of our breathing and invites us to understand the ‘spirit’ (breath) of God that is the life in us.
- ‘Peace: You & I’ – a photography display presented by Karthik Ganesan. This was an ongoing project where Karthik invites people to think about and commit to joining hands and making the world a better place to live in.
As the afternoon came to a conclusion, participants went home having had the opportunity to engage with fellow community members in a common reflection about the idea that ‘Everyone belongs’ – reflecting the diversity that exists across our community’s many cultures and faiths. By telling our stories and listening to one another, we celebrated something of the ‘harmony’ that is possible when we meet and seek to listen and understand one another. The creation of a ‘World Café’ space encouraged an atmosphere of relaxed conversation and sharing. Brought together over wonderful music and the delightful refreshments and afternoon tea provided by Cultural Education and Chai Junction, Harmony Day 2014 was a fitting community gathering that signified harmony and belonging for all.