Walk Together in harmony
People of Australia ambassador Vivi Germanos-Koutsounadis’ experience as a migrant child was enough to make her ensure new arrivals to Australia don’t suffer the same
This Saturday at 1:00 pm, Australians from all walks of life will be given the opportunity to celebrate diversity for the sake of Australia's future. 'It's Time To Walk Together' will be an opportunity for all people living in the Australian community - Aboriginal Australians, refugees, migrants, international students, long term Australians - to symbolically demonstrate our multicultural reality and call for an end to the politics of fear, division and prejudice.
In 1954, there was no cultural harmony. A nine-year-old Vivi landed in Australia from Greece with her family and was faced with prejudice, name calling, a "dramatic experience" that has certainly shaped who she is and what she's gone on to do.
"The policy for migrants by the government was to assimilate and what happened was up to about 1970 nearly 4 million people came to Australia and the government believed they would all become Australian and assimilate... of course that can never happen, assimilation can not happen in a democratic and free country," Ms Germanos-Koutsounadis told Neos Kosmos.
Since then, her life has been one towards fighting against racism, promoting multiculturalism and advancing women's, refugees' and migrants' rights. At an early age, Ms Germanos-Koutsanadis worked as an interpreter to help fellow Greeks with English documents, new arrivals who weren't sure of their rights and responsibilities in their new country. She remembers a time when there were not government services or not-for-profit associations ready and willing to help migrants and refugees.
"It made me become who I am today," she says of her early experiences in Australia, "because I said why should the migration practise be traumatic for people - it should be easier." So from then she sought out a way to make it "more humane".
"I learn a lot of things; I could see the injustices," she says of her experiences.
And now, Ms Germanos-Koutsounadis wears many hats, all of them helping and advocating for human rights.
35 years ago, she set up the not-for-profit community based Ethnic Family and Community Services Co-operative Ltd. It was set up to ensure that people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds be provided with the opportunity to participate and receive services relevant, sensitive and appropriate to their linguistic, cultural, religious and lifestyle needs. She is also the chair of the Network of Immigrants and Refugee Women of Australia. In 1998, she was awarded the Human Rights Medal by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (now the Australian Human Rights Commission) for her advocacy of community organisations and equity issues. And this year, she was voted by Federal MP Tanya Plibersek as a People of Australia ambassador in recognition of all her tireless work.
As a new People of Australia ambassador, Ms Germanos-Koutsounadis will provide advice to the government and the Australian Multicultural Council to assist and strengthen multicultural policy - and one way to do this is through the Walk Together campaign.
Walk Together is a celebration of all that diversity adds to our society, culture and nation as we recognise that we have all walked different paths to become part of the combined Australian journey. More than ten capital cities and regional centres across Australia - thousands of Australians - will walk in unity, symbolically expressing the positive future we dream of for our communities and nation. Each walk will finish at a local place of significance with a small festival celebrating the diverse cultures that make up the Australian experience.
When asked what Walk Together means to her, Ms Germanos-Koutsounadis said emphatically that it means "everyone!"
"It doesn't matter what background, what gender, what disability, where they come from, what religion, what race, what views, what political affiliation or anything; it doesn't matter. All the people of Australia will walk together... and come together.
She adds that it's important for the Greek community to participate and be as vocal as possible in mobilising our community.
"We can get a huge mass of people showing that we do care, that we are all diverse, we are all citizens of this country, we love the country, we want it to be right and to become more humane and more caring," she says.
The Director of Welcome to Australia Brad Chilcott echoed these sentiments.
"The Greek community is now well established and has made a huge contribution to the prosperity of Australia," he told Neos Kosmos.
"Now is an opportunity to help new and emerging communities make the same kind of positive contribution to our economy and society."
Mr Chilcott says that any Australian who is not a descendant of the First Nations people of Australia is a migrant.
"For some of us, we were welcomed warmly and we should offer that same opportunity to belong that we enjoyed. For others, we experienced the pain of exclusion and had to make a way for ourselves without assistance."
"We can work together to make sure others avoid this kind of loneliness," he said.
For Ms Germanos-Koutsounadis, her want is for migrants not to have gone through the same experiences she had when first arriving in Australia and to walk in harmony in support of this.
"To be multicultural is a human right - the right for people to maintain their language, their culture, their religion to facilitate to be equally recognised as Australian citizens, because we are all Australian citizens."
For more information on Walk Together and to participate visit www.welcometoaustralia.org.au
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