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Discovering diversity during delivery (Lessons from an enlivening experience)

By Yusuf Sheikh Omar


It was on the 7th of July that I attended a training session on how to deliver and professionally collect census forms as an officer for the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The manual training book and videotapes were full of experiences from former collectors in the field.  A dedicated trainer gave us valuable advice and instructions on how to approach people in positive ways when delivering forms. Despite having this informative session, the manual book and videotapes contained some sentences which caused me huge concern and alarm based on my cultural background, notably when it comes to how to deal with dogs. These unfamiliar sentences in my origin of culture were as following:


 Domestic dogs can pose a problem. Be aware and look for signs of dogs. Dogs are territorial animals and the territory may extend well beyond the boundary of a fence or gates…watch the dog’s body language. Signs such as the dog’s hair standing on end, the dog’s head lowered, or the dogs staring at you while keeping its tail straight down restrain down, are usually cause for concern”.


This alarminging message captured my whole attention for a while. It alarmed me and haunted me, particularly when I was delivering at evenings.


Whatever my personal concerns and feelings, collectors were equipped in the training session with everything possible to grantee our safety and security in the field. I really like adventures and what involves becoming an adventurer since my childhood, but this time I was quite uncertain of the consequences of this new mission which was something that I never even dreamed of. Even with this ambivalent situation, I was very sure from the outset of the census work that my personal characteristics would help me to communicate easily and deal with apparently discrepant cultures in an appropriate manner.


In the Field  


I started delivering forms with mixed feelings of optimism and pessimism. I was optimistic, because I always like to keep my hope and focus forward. In addition the  “give up” culture has no room in my mind and in my personal way of life. On the other hand, I was pessimistic, because I wasn’t sure of consequences of the new job or in other words the uncertainty of the mission. 


My main goal was to impose my self into the mainstream, to gain new experiences not in theory but in practice. “Good afternoon. My name is Yusuf. I work for the  Australian Bureau of Statistics as a collector and I am delivering census forms.  Could I ask you few questions please” I said this the first time I delivered forms. Fortunately, the householder was very warm, helpful, keen and kind. She was very familiar with diverse cultures in her global village. People who speak English with ambiguous or unclear accents blended  with phonics, intonation and rhythms of their background languages were not new in her ears. With that good start, I was immensely uplifted and invigorated. As well I felt and foresaw that the end of my new work would be similar to the outset.


I began my journey with a new positive mood and spirit after the first encouraging treatment offered by the smiling lady. I started knocking door to door daily delivering forms and discovering the live legends of diversities that represented cultures, languages, attitudes and styles of lives. Some householders are monolingual while others are bio-lingual or multi-lingual.  Some residents speak English while others speak only their mother languages or English coupled with their original language such as Italian, Chinese, Somali, Arabic and so on. Oh my gosh! what wonderful language assets on Australia’s soil! Indeed if Peter Costello would work as a Census forms’ collector in Heidelberg he could use white lenses when talking about diversity and he could utter the phrase “solid miracle multiculturalism” instead of “mushy multiculturalism”.    


Other aspects of discovered diversities represent urban demographic locations where people of different colours and cultures are accommodated side by side in government global village houses built to host the international athletes in 1956 Olympic games. From that historical event when the athletes had been honoured to live in this part of Melbourne, the suburb has proudly preserved those prestigious positions of diversity. It also gradually developed Australia’s hybrid cosmos of multiculturalism. The buildings in Heidelberg that police had believed in the past were a point of concentration for negative behaviours have become a pivot of privileges. Indeed, everyone who gets a chance to be placed in theHeidelberg buildings will be happy with the beauty of diversity.


Walking around, delivering or collecting forms I have experienced the magnificence of Australia’s universality that overtly and covertly stands for diverse cultures from all over the world. This encompasses skin colours, languages, lifestyles, ways of dressing, attitudes, talents, potentials and so on. Diverse approaches attracted my attention particularly when it comes to male-female communication. In Australia’s plural environment each approach was appropriate in its context. Different cultural expressions based on diverse faiths, individual or collective points of views were identified in neighbouring doors of attached, detached or semi-detached houses or flats and apartments in the district I worked in. Because I am multi-lingual and I have lived in many different counties I managed to cope well dealing with diversities as I easily integrated my work without any notable barrier or obstacle.


Compared with the affluent suburbs in Melbourne I found a strong feasible relationship between poverty and pluralism or in other words between disadvantaged areas and diversity in my district work. Indeed, the wealthy suburbs -where the world of multiculturalism is still in people’s thoughts, theoretical stage and has not been materialised yet into the real world- are deprived of what Heidelbergians are enriched with.


Since the Olympic games in 1956, government accommodations have been and still are attracting poor and destitute people of different cultures who can’t afford rent in prosperous areas. For that reason, residents in Heidelberg may be counted as poor when it comes to the material life but they are culturally very rich, colourful and heterogeneous adding values to our  society based on multiculturalism. I am very confident that Heidelbergians will contribute greatly to the diversity and will become one of the main flourishing centres for the pluralism in the outlying districts of John So’s territory (City of Melbourne).


Because I work as a multicultural aide teacher in three primary public schools in my district work I am fully aware of how my endeavours at schools are significant and very important to my new work as a collector. For instance, I was greeted or saluted in the streets many times by my students or their parents of different backgrounds while walking around. I also was welcomed in some houses while delivering or collecting forms. On some occasions, I have been engaged in chatting with students from diverse cultures while they were blooming and playing in groups which made me realise that the world of racism and inequality did not exist among these flowers. These unhealthy attitudes are what they will grasp and develop from the spoiled ego of some adults’ environment later on their lives. This wonderful experience in Heidelberg West during my work as a collector made me feel at home and encouraged me to continue delivering or collecting  forms even in the dark of night when every person sheltered his/her home.


During the training session, we were given instructions to return back to households at least five times until we collected all forms. As a result of the “go back routine work”, I became well known and very popular in my collection area. My clients from different backgrounds and cultures were greeting me in different ways and different languages such as hand-shaking, face gestures, smiling, eye contact hand-waves and so on. “hi Yusuf or hi Josef, hi mate, g’day, assalamu alaykum, iska waran, nice to see you again” were patterns of homage and respects showed to me from culturally diverse inhabitants in my  admirable cosmopolitan district. Because of cultural differences some clients were calling me my first name ‘Yusuf’, some were calling me my family name ‘Omar’ while others were calling me Ma’alim which means teacher. This terrific experience of creating very remarkable friendships with my local clients inspired me greatly. The terrific experience in Heidelberg also revealed to me that I could easily beat the Prime Minister or Mr Beasly in the ballot box, not in its narrow political meaning but, beyond this, in its hidden meanings and deep connotations of understanding diversities and cultural interpretations in twenty first century.


A strong sense of harmony, positive neighbourhood values, common good, respect, mutual understanding with strengthening social bonds in a culturally rich and diverse society were discovered in the Heidelberg suburb of Melbourne. Since I relocated to this suburb in 2001, I have observed that my Heidelbergian fellows of different backgrounds were responding positively to each other and to the diversity. I also observed that new interwoven cultural forms and mixed styles were and are still taking place while each cultural group still preserves their historical root traditions and values. This experience of different cultures living side by side in tolerance, acceptance, harmony and love is concrete proof for invalidity of Fukuyama’s blinkered vision that sees diversity as delusion and false dream.


At the end of my work I realised that I have collected two different kinds of forms: visible and invisible forms. The visible forms consisted of papers that people have filled in it. The invisible forms -which are metaphors- were filled with incredible and valuable experiences of meanings and new knowledge that embodied discovering the flavour, beauty and quality of diversities. I have returned the visible to the Australian Bureau of Statistics but the invisible priceless one, will remain in my conscious, mind and memory forever.     


From this humble experience, I would like to suggest that the fabulous phenomenon of multiculturalism is undoubtedly becoming a central feature for Australia’s most worthy heritage and its values. For that reason, I would like to invite everyone on the earth to espouse and embrace the diversity as a fundamental principle that is the ideal and magic conclusion of human history. I invite all to believe that our diversity is our power, prestige and destination, which deserves to be preached everywhere and at all times.  


In conclusion, we should work together tirelessly to nourish, feed, strengthen, protect, preserve and flourish this great heritage that we inherited from our ancestors all over the world, throughout all continents and pass these great values to our younger generations. That would be the ultimate proof of our commitment to the cause of diversity. 


Yusuf Sheikh Omar
An Educationalist Somali writer base in Melbourne- Australia
E-mail: [email protected]


The opinions contained in this article are solely those of the writer, and in no way, form or shape represent the editorial opinions of "Hiiraan Online"

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