Organisations: Kath Dickson Family Centre Assoc Inc
Contact: Kathleen Turley 29 Hill Street, PO Box 1746 TOOWOOMBA QLD 4350
Tel: (07) 46 324463
Fax: (07) 46 131 678
Mobile: 0438 100 275
Funding: Department of Family Community Services & Indigenous Affairs
Description of Initiative
The Social Craft Group is part of a support program run by the Kath Dickson Family Centre. This broad program seeks to support parents with children between 0 and 5 years of age and offers home visits to parents and groups where necessary.
The Social Craft Group itself is an open forum and was designed to address the fact that some mothers may not have access to the usual support structure or face difficulties making friends due to language and cultural barriers. Language has definitely been a barrier for a few women in this initiative and remains the key challenge for the group. Despite this, the focus of this initiative remains to provide social support to women who have babies or small children. The Social Craft Group runs once a week on Thursday between 10:00am and 1:00pm. It came about:
… when we were funded … back in January 2005. … we had just the social group … a small number of women that were getting together just for craft but also to provide social support to each other and that was run on a monthly basis. … there weren’t any Muslims involved in that program at that stage. About six months into … the women who were attending that group asked for the group to be run on a regular basis. They wanted to have more contact and as a result of that I guess then the group has grown now to include I mean we can have in any week up to 10 or 12 people attending.
The organisation does not have any criteria for participation and therefore women from any social, cultural, ethnic, or religious background can participate. In a sense it is very egalitarian.
Whoever feels like they’d like to come along and meet other mothers and bring their children and that’s sort of been what we do here. We have a focus around providing a craft activity just to take the sting out of sitting talking to people because sometimes if you’re feeling a bit shy... social group daunting, it can be problematic. So unless you’ve got structured activities where people come along, bring their children ….
There is a lot of flexibility as to how one may utilise her time at the centre in the group. Women who participate in the initiative either work independently or in a group and they have numerous choices in terms of activities.
… we have craft activities which women either work by themselves or they work together to … cover different craft skills that they have or sometimes we put a project together but people just bring their own things.
… there’s a couple of sewing machines, they’re learning to sew. There’s knitting, crocheting, scrap-booking, beading. We’re about to undertake some Christmas crafts. Other times people don’t want to do crafts they just sit there … corners of the room and all sit and talk or play with their kids and so it’s not structured that you have craft oh no but it’s all about just giving the women a chance to connect with the other women in the group … working around themselves. So that’s basically what we offer here that morning and like I said there’s a number of women who attend. It’s quite multicultural so the range of nationalities that come are Australian, we’ve got Indian, Sri Lankan, Afghani, African. So it’s quite broad. It’s for non-English … I think again the issue about
… religion hasn’t been a problem at all. … if we had someone who’s a bit more extremist in their viewpoints …that may raise a bit of an issue. I’m not sure but people mostly just come and sit and talk around
The Social Craft Group not only demonstrates how a small grouping can help bring people together in a relationship but shows that learning and understanding is part of both relationship building as well as community building. For all women involved this is overwhelmingly a positive experience. But the Social Craft Group as a relationship building initiative has some challenges too.
The women participants in the Social Craft Group - who come from different social, cultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds - have developed a close bond with each other. Despite these differences, their womanhood and the fact that they are all mothers are common factors that bind them together. The success of this initiative is based on the relationship these women have forged through engaging in craft activity. Putting politics and religion aside, these women have developed a bond with each other by simply doing certain craft work or taking time out to hold a personal conversation with each other in the comfort of a friendly and relaxed environment.
These relationships have been forged not through political engagement but through the simple process of socialisation. Here we can see that bridges between communities are built through social interaction.
I think it is possible to build relationships with Muslims, but I don’t think it’s possible to do it on a political basis. I think small groups like this are helpful. I don’t think people bringing in laws and policies or anything... they’re just going to stir up things and say, ‘You’re trying to make me do this, you’re trying to make me do that,’ but when peoplecome together in small groups like this, that haven’t had anything to do with each other before, if they come together and get to know each other, you know, it’s a lot better. People feel more comfortable being around each other and doing things together. The politics isn’t here that is necessarily in other places...
Through conversing over ordinary issues the women have come to learn about each other and about their backgrounds on a more intimate level. This has helped build their relationship because the environment is appropriate; it permits intimacy.
I think learning and experiencing – not experiencing, but learning about what they’ve been through, and why they believe in what they believe in. It’s kind of eye-opening because a lot of the time you don’t get out of the circle that you’re in so you come to craft groups and things like this and you get out of the little box, the little world you’ve built for yourself, and you learn about other people and why they believe what they believe.
… if you didn’t ask them or try and understand why they do that, then you might get a bit offended, or certainly a bit of out of joint about the whole situation. But because we are a small group and we have things in common, we learn a lot.
An important aspect of the program has been the opportunity to ask questions about the other cultural and religious practices in a safe and supportive environment. Certainly for the Anglo-Celtic women involved, this has been quite helpful.
Julia: I find it quite easy to ask somebody here about certain things that I wouldn’t have understood otherwise….[the Muslim lady here says] I understand that, and this is why they do this, and this is why they do that,’ … So she opened my eyes to a few things, to how they do things differently, and it made me understand a few more things!
Sally: Again, when it comes to the difficulties, again, I think it comes back to: how do you understand that person? How do you know what they’ saying? Did I hear that right, or were you saying this? And I think people who get offended very easily can get their nose quite out of joint. Here, some parents who look after their children in a similar way but there might be one thing that’s a bit different, and if you didn’t ask them or try and understand why they do that, then you might get a bit offended… But because we are a small group and we have things in common, [and] because her it is OK to say, ‘Look at that!’ or ‘Why do you do that?’ or ‘What is that?’
While discussions of culture and religion are not entirely absent, it is the shared experience of motherhood which most permeates the relationship. Through this lens, the cultural differences take on a lesser role.
Sally: And when I identify women here, the first thing we identify them with is, ‘She’s such-and-such’. We don’t particularly identify them as a Muslim or as a Christian or as a Buddhist...like, I don’t identify Tanya as African. I identify her as [so and so’s] mum.
In turn, the opportunity to establish these friendships has helped the participants examine their own prejudices and assumptions about other groups.
Julia: … talking to Muslims [in this group] and people of different ethnic races, I have found that maybe my views weren’t as open as I thought they were, and even though somebody acts differently or does different things, it doesn’t mean that I have to do them, or I don’t have to be accepting of what they do, but I still have to be kind and polite and nice to them. Just because they believe in something different, that’s not going to change my point of view that they are individuals and have the right to respect. I mean, hearing what they know and what they do has made me more open, I guess.
The initiative is not without its challenges, however. When first attending the group, there is some nervousness about how to deal with the cultural differences among the women.
Julia:. When I first came, I came on a Friday, when they had the multicultural day, and there were a lot of African ladies and they were speaking different languages, and there were other ladies there speaking different languages, and when I first walked into it I knew that it was going to be different, but now it’s: it really IS different! If you just keep coming and keep going with it, it’s easier, but if you come the first time and it’s, ‘No, this is a bit weird...’
There are also some language barriers which make it more challenging for two of the Muslim-Australian women in the group (one African, one Afghani) to fully participate.
Tanya: … if I didn’t know how to speak English, or write and read, I’d be more with my people than coming here (sic). Here, the halal and other things, halal food. That’s why we stay in our community more….
Organisational and Sustainability Issues
There are two issues which stand out in terms of organisation and long term sustainability of this program.
To overcome language barriers; the organisation should consider offering language programs so that women from non-English speaking backgrounds can refine their language skills and use them beyond the Social Craft Group:
I mean smaller country areas like we are, gets a bit more limited as well but even just finding our commonalities, you know sometimes the fears that bring us together are stronger than what divides us …. I can live with this, and because this is more important and I guess I go back to my comment earlier, people that access this program, come because there are things missing in their lives … knowledge that … people speaking one particular language … somebody comes and they don’t understand, I said remember when you came and you didn’t speak English? And if all of you work together speaking whatever language you’re speaking then if I come as a new person I’m not going to feel welcome and so I probably personalise some of the reasons why people come, and just to make people aware that when I get a few people around me that are similar to me and in thinking, language, religion or whatever that thinking that you know … made welcome … someone who’s new then it’s about stepping out of my shell to make sure they feel welcome because I remember what it was like for me,
To secure long-term funding which will help these women continue the Social Craft Group to both learn as well as engage in craft activity but more importantly that the Social Craft Group serves the women with a common platform to interact with each other, which they may not do so in the absence of this initiative. Unfortunately funding for this program lapses in June of 2008 and it is therefore under threat of discontinuation:
We’re funded through the government and the program, all components of the program are reliant on the funding … part of what we try to show is what we’re doing in the community and how we’re making the program accessible to everyone and I guess you know the basis of your research … involvement of Muslim and non-Muslim people in the community and what activities they do … hopefully we’re … include that in our funding application... been involved in our program is seen to be up there doing whatever would be really helpful.
The interviewees spoke highly of this project. To borrow from Michel Maffesoli (1996) they found an ‘anchoring place’ in the Social Craft Group.
I guess we all share the same concerns and all being mums and it wouldn’t matter where you came from or what you are, you’re still either having trouble breastfeeding and I don’t know what to do or this is happening with the baby and I don’t know what to do and there’s been that commonality...being probably the reason why people do feel very comfortable here.
The Social Craft Group is a strong relationship and community building initiative.
It is a simple yet effective approach to bringing people together into a social relationship.
It is an economical and apolitical forum that can easily be replicated anywhere and does not require too much organising.
Women who find themselves isolated from the broader community based on social, cultural, ethnic, and religious differences can participate in the Social Craft Group to overcome these barriers, whereby the Group acts as a stepping stone to interacting with the larger Australian society.
The program offers a safe environment for non-Muslim women to ask questions about different cultural and religious practices. This is an important space in country towns such as Toowoomba where multiculturalism is relatively new.
Relationships tend to form around a common bond of motherhood.
The program requires some ongoing funding support as it is under threat of discontinuation.