Not-for-profit educational organisation, Together For Humanity (TFH) hosted a dinner last Sunday to launch its inaugural ‘Giving Together Day’ fundraising appeal.

Over 100 people gathered at Parra Villa Function Centre in Parramatta to learn more about the work the organisation does with schools to tackle prejudice and create a more inclusive society.

A panel of speakers including TFH’s National Director, Rabbi Zalman Kastel AM, Education Director, Mark van Ommen, and Informal Education Officer, Calisha Bennett spoke about fostering acceptance, dignity and belonging as people of diverse faiths.

Passionate educators: Rabbi Zalman Kastel AM, Calisha Bennett and Mark van Ommen.

Panellists began the discussion by addressing two simple questions: ‘who is Together For Humanity’ and ‘who are we here to serve?’ A diverse, inclusive not-for-profit, TFH works with school communities to foster interfaith and intercultural understanding and, in doing so, brings communities together. The organisation has been offering diversity education programs and helping school communities learn how to deal with differences for nearly two decades.

TFH serves children attending state, independent (Muslim, Jewish and other) and Catholic schools, many of whom have not had the opportunity to meet and learn about people from different backgrounds and faiths; as well as teenagers from communities who are subjected to prejudice, who feel like outsiders and need to learn how to respond to this so they can feel a sense of belonging and can thrive. The organisation also works with teachers of these students to support their learning and create more connected, inclusive classrooms.

Guests at TFH dinner at Parra Villa Function Centre, Parramatta.

The TFH team comprises Muslims, Jews and Christians working together to educate children to embrace people who believe and practice differently from themselves.

Rabbi Zalman said “we operate by bringing our faith into the work. Ours is not the ‘thin multiculturalism’ of food and flags, but rather, a rich multiculturalism that accepts people as they are in their spirit and in their inner lives.”

Panellists each offered an explanation of a sacred object – Rabbi Zalman spoke about his Channukiah (a Jewish candelabra) as the dinner took place during the festival of Channukah, Calisha spoke about a copy of the Koran that she carries with her, and Mark shared about his medallion from Lourdes, France, an important pilgrimage site for Catholics all around the world.

Proud Muslim woman, community leader and mentor for Muslim women and youth, Calisha spoke about TFH’s Believe, Belong and Blossom program and its success leading Muslim girls on a journey towards self-confidence and self-belief, supported by female community mentors. Participants gain a sense of belonging to a community, and blossom as they realise their potential. On the back of its success in NSW, the program will be rolled out to schools in Victoria in 2021.

Independent evaluation by Western Sydney University[1] has found that TFH’s work is effective in helping students to 1) challenge stereotypes and confront fears, 2) deal with prejudice and discrimination and 3) develop empathy, mutual acceptance and a sense of belonging together. By bringing together diverse communities and modelling cooperation in spite of differences, the organisation helps to increase social cohesion in Australia.

TFH Chairman of the Board, Chris McDiven AM.

The Giving Together Day appeal is still accepting donations, and until midnight Monday 21 December, every dollar donated will be matched and doubled.

You can support the important work of Together For Humanity by donating here: https://www.togetherforhumanity.org.au/tfh_donate/

Sheikh Jehad Ismail and Mark van Ommen.

[1] Promoting intercultural understanding, connectedness and belonging: An independent qualitative evaluation of Together For Humanity programs, Gale, F, Edenborough, M, Boccanfuso, E, Hawkins, M., Sell, C, (2019) Western Sydney University, Australia.