On 22 November 2019, 12 ladies from the University of the Third Age, Croydon Patchwork group nervously entered St James Hall Dandenong. Waiting to greet them were 23 women from the Australian Hazara Women’s Friendship Network. This gathering was part of Community Four and the AHWFN’s Living in Australia program.
Coming from the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, the U3A ladies had very little exposure to the diversity of cultures in the Dandenong area. It was the first time any of the ladies had met a member of the Muslim community. Previous conversations had highlighted their nerves about the differences of language, religion and life experiences. What united them however was a love of sewing. It was this shared interest that was the basis of bringing these two different groups together. We hoped members from both communities would be challenged to confront preconceived ideas and to leave the gathering seeing far more similarities between them than differences.
What begun as a tentative encounter quickly became a cohesive group of women who appreciated the difference in sewing styles and demonstrated an eagerness to share and learn from each other. In a very short time, it was evident that language barriers had melted away as the women devised their own sign language to answer questions about how certain stitches, threads and methods of sewing were achieved.
The Hazara ladies proudly showed their sewing and embroidery projects to the U3A group. Although a little intimidated at first by the incredible embroidery skills of the Hazara women, the U3A ladies were enthusiastically encouraged to display and talk about their patchwork projects. Both groups were delighted with the warm reception and praise of each other’s work. So much so, that neither group was interested in breaking for afternoon tea.
An observer of the occasion would not have even detected there was no common verbal language within the group. The talking, smiles and body language all indicated a group of women who had no trouble communicating with each other.
At the end of the afternoon, the goodbyes turned into heart felt hugs between the two groups and this simple act of bringing people with a common interest together was enough to challenge and overcome the barriers of language, circumstance, culture and ideology. It also served to make the U3A ladies curious about getting to know more about the journeys the Hazara community experienced to come to Australia. Bringing the humanity into the political and media agenda certainly provided the U3A ladies with a rich experience to take back to their family and friends that may help challenge some of the stereotypes within the wider community.
More gatherings are planned for 2020.
Sheryl Taylor Curriculum