The organisation’s national director, Rabbi Zalman Kastel says the organisation decided to bring its program to schools because children are very open to embracing new knowledge and people who appear different to themselves.
“It is not enough to tell children to say no to racism,” he explains.
"In fact, research tells us that even giving them information about different groups is not enough on its own. Instead, children need exposure to people with different cultures and beliefs to develop empathy with others and the ability to navigate the realities of cross-cultural interactions.”
This exposure is delivered to students through programs presented by diverse teams.
“Typically the teams will have a Muslim person, a woman in a headscarf, an Imam or a lay person, a Jewish person and a Christian. We emphasise that this is not about religion, and in fact we sometimes have an agnostic or an atheist on the team. Instead it is about respect for difference.”
Together For Humanity were invited to Marie Bashir Public School in New South Wales as the students were completing a unit of work on ‘people and their beliefs’.
“The students were able to gain a better understanding of various religions by meeting people from different religious backgrounds who were able to share information about their celebrations and beliefs,” principal Jacqueline Attard explains.
One activity involves a guessing game on which members of the team are Australian.
“Most students confuse ethnicity with nationality but when given an opportunity to reflect on what [being] Australian means for them, the students come up with much more inclusive understandings of what it means to be Australian,” Zalman explains.
“Sharing personal stories and anecdotes is an important teaching strategy we use in the workshop for developing empathy with people who are different in some ways but actually similar in other ways. In stage three, the stories relate to migration, and in stage two they are focused more on celebrations. The young children respond very well to a game involving cultural objects. They put their hand in a bag and pull out a candelabra, a scroll or beads.”
Zalman says that to foster confidence around difference, they also invite children to ask them any question they like, promising they won’t find them rude.
“This is often the richest part of the sessions. Children ask surface questions about why a Muslim woman wears a scarf or a Jewish man wears a little hat, but they also go deeper such as whether members of a minority ever wish they could be someone else. It really breaks down the barriers.
“Another favorite for us is the tribal role play game in which children take on a fictional set of cultural practices and communicate silently with their peers. This exercise led a Year 5 child at one of our recent programs to reflect on dealing with difference. He said ‘it is easier to be with people that are like you but it is more interesting to be with people who are different’,” Zalman explains.
Attard says the program was a positive experience for students and staff.
“It developed cultural awareness as well as respect and sensitivity to the beliefs of others. The representatives connected really well with the students to reinforce the idea of celebrating Australia’s diversity.”