Today’s story comes from Debra, who is based out of Hobart and has been a facilitator for us for over a year. Here’s her take on The Welcome Dinner Project
Open Space for People to Connect in Their Own Way
I’ve been a Welcome Dinner Project facilitator for just over a year now. During this time I have co-facilitated a Welcome Dinner, helped out at a larger Community Dinner (a collaboration between the Migrant Resource Centre and the WDP, with three other facilitators and the State Coordinator), hosted a facilitator catch up dinner in my home, supported the State Coordinator in the second WDP facilitator training recently in Hobart and, in a couple of weeks, I will be helping out at a WDP stall at the O-week expo at University of Tasmania.
I am deeply committed to the ethos behind the project and in particular the way the dinners provide that open space for people to connect in their own way. I am so humbled by the kindness and generosity of humanity at these dinners. It think it works because it provides warmth that all humans responds so readily to. When I say warmth I mean the warmth of the human spirit – the very simply yet powerful acknowledgement of a person free from labels and history. I believe that is what makes this project have such a strong social impact in our communities.
Whilst I work full time and am a mother, my volunteering with the WDP to date has been one of the most fulfilling things I have ever done. It aligns very well with my cross cultural background. My mother came to Tasmania in the early 1960’s under the then Colombo Plan as a student nurse – she was just 18 years old. She spent 51 years living in Australia, had three children and returned to her homeland of Northern Luzon many many times over that time before tragically dying two years ago at the age of 70. My two big brothers and I would go home to the Philippines many times as children as I returned many time as a adult on my own. I think it’s important to mention this as when I was young and throughout my childhood my mother’s cultural background had, and still has, a significant impact on my life. It was only after she died that I realised how significant that impact has been. She always invited people into our family home to cook for them. Her heart was always open to people new to Tasmania because she had the lived experience of being new herself and the struggles that occurred to feel connected and belong. That feeling of openness and warmth, that I remember so well as a young girl and growing up, I felt again at my very first Welcome Dinner. It was a very similar feeling of acceptance and warmth amongst a room of stranger who very quickly made connections, over food, and become friends.
I think the WDP is so important for our communities and for Australia as a whole as the world continues to rapidly change and as people flee war and are displaced. But I also think it’s powerful in a much more subtle way and I think it’s because of that balance in the Dinner between newly arrived and established Australians. I will volunteer in the project for as long as I can and hope in some small way I can contribute to the positive change. To Penny and all of the WDP crews across Australia – thank your for your generosity of heart, vision and for providing such inspiring training. Lastly I want to thank you for welcoming me with such warmth and trust.
WDP facilitator & host
based in Hobart, Tasmania