By Andrew Humphries
In the modern fast-paced world of 24-hour news cycles, opinion shaped by social media, and seemingly endless confrontation between one group or another, just getting through another exhausting day sometimes seems enough of a challenge for us.
But what if, for some people, there was an extra layer to that challenge?
For many people, their disability, race, cultural background, religion or socio-economic circumstances make the daily battle even harder.
But thanks to the Manningham Uniting Church, the stories, hopes and struggles of these people will be given a voice in March during the Building Bridges Through Story event.
First held in 2019, the community gathering will bring people together from minority groups to talk about their experiences and, in the process, build a bridge to a world of better understanding.
“Building Bridges Through Story will be an engagement of the heart, a deep listening to the real stories of people who have experienced pain and suffering as a result of being excluded, ignored, subjected to unjust laws, discriminated against and often abused in public,” says one of the event’s organisers, Helen Bartlett.
“Every story told will be a gift to the listener, and an attempt to find a deeper connection with other minority groups in our own community.”
Helen says the two-day event will provide opportunities to listen to stories from and interact with Muslim women from Benevolence Australia, a faith-based community that aims to nourish, develop and support the individual and family unit, using the rich spiritual tradition of Islam.
Representatives from the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation and those with various abilities from the Victorian Advocacy League for Individuals with Disability, an independent disability advocacy organisation, will also share their stories.
“It will be a celebration of diversity; an opportunity to build bridges and establish lasting connections, thus breaking down walls in our society built through ignorance and fear of people of different colour, abilities, races, culture, religions, birthplaces, and socio-economic circumstances,” Helen says.
Among the guest speakers will be Saara Sabbagh, the founder and CEO of Benevolence Australia, and a recent OAM recipient for her service to women and the Muslim community.
“Saara will share her focus on being an Australian Muslim in today’s world and how all peoples’ stories can be respected and relationships developed,” Helen says.
“She will be joined by Mary Henley-Collopy, a Thalidomide survivor and disability activist, who has served on many boards, including as chairperson of the Disability Resource Centre’s committee of management.
“In addition to her lived experience, Mary will offer a contextual understanding of disability.
“African Muslim psychologist Toltu Tufa will also be one of the event’s guest speakers, sharing the stories of her community and educational experiences, while speakers from VALID will share their personal experiences, challenges and achievements in exerting control and influence over their lives and exercising their human rights and citizen status within their local communities.
“These stories will include people who experience a range of disabilities and parents of people with a disability who have advocated and fought fiercely for them to be included in access to housing, education and employment.
“The stories will include experiences of assumptions on people’s capacity, experiences of exclusion and discrimination and also of inclusion and valued contribution, and will explore the way society has created barriers to people’s inclusion and often been the disabling factor more so than the disability diagnosis.
“Manningham Uniting Church’s hope for Building Bridges Through Story is that people
will gain an understanding of equality and a deep respect for difference, and we warmly invite you to join us.”
The second Building Bridges Through Story event will be held at Manningham Uniting Church’s new church and community centre complex at 109 Wood St, Templestowe on March 4-5.
For further information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 9846 2012.