I recently went to a Cultural Awareness Seminar. I found it exciting and interesting with so many AHA moments that I knew I’d have to share it 🙂 It’s long, but well worth reading or printing for your centre too! I may randomly upload notes form various seminars I’ve been too. I get so inspired by them and feel a rejuvenation of prospects and Ideas. If you think this is a good idea or are really not interested, let me know!
Cultural Awareness Training
To clarify, a Migrant is a person who chooses to leave their home country, while a Refugee is one who is forced to leave. Whether this is to do with their race, religion, political views, nationality or social group.
They are resettled by the UN, often without paperwork like birth certificates. They are experiencing changes at the same time as needing to adapt to their current life. They are recovering from trauma and may be separated from family. Others spend years in refugee camps, in hard conditions, before being resettled.
Children born in refugee camps can have issues with identifying their nationality. Ie Iranian families birthing in Iraq or African families birthing in Egypt will still call their children Iranian or African, whilst formal papers call then Iraqi or Egyptian.
*many students may have difficulty maintaining their cultural identity as well as ‘fitting into’ the school culture. Ramadan is a month of feasting (eating only before dawn and after sunset) followed by 3 days of food, which often sees the children being absent during the feast. Hijabs are required in mixed company, which would mean that in PE classes, at mixed schools, the girls would still be fully covered. Some parents prefer to send their girls to traditionally Catholic schools, as they offer an all girl environment in which the girls can participate fully.
*by the age of 10 girls are required to follow the religious and cultural ways, which means limited contact with males – including teachers. By 15 it would be entirely inappropriate to shake hands, touch or hold unsupervised conversations with males of the same or greater age.
*Middle eastern culture sees girls and boys educated separately and some girls not allowed to go to school at all, instead being tutored at home.
*The education system runs on a Pass or Fail advancement system. If a student does not pass at least 3 of the 5 subjects, they do not advance to the next year level. This leads to mixed age classrooms. Technically, you could have a grade one classroom with children aged 4 to 20.
*children often know more about the Australians culture and language through school. Some parents will use their children as interpreters – it is our job to educate the parents on the importance of their child being at school and getting help from interpreters or community liaison officers to help the family achieve what they need without diminishing the child’s education.
*Families have difficulty working with the expectations of schools. The ideas of learning through play, group work, talking in class, child centred learning, written assignments and research vs structured lessons are foreign to them. Their classrooms are teacher led, learning from text (ie pages 1 through 5) then presenting oral reports to show their understanding. When parents find children’s drawings, they might feel inclined to think “throw that in the bin, that’s not work, that’s playing”
*Students can find these new environments daunting, the have a fear of not knowing the ‘correct’ answer, not asking for help and have no prior experience in the ‘risk taking’ of learning.
*It’s important to understand the students behaviour – their lack of literacy or understanding can cause misbehaving. While the segregation and systems for dealing with misbehaviour will relieve the class and teacher, it won’t help the student understand what is expected of them.
*Most families expect children to go to Uni, it is important to clarify that there are other pathways to education and success like, TAFE and apprenticeships. In their home country, apprenticeships are seen as low-level and frowned upon, but here they offer opportunities to success in many fields.
*For teachers and carers it can be overwhelming when families give them gifts, as Serbian culture teaches people to give gifts as way of thanks. This may include money or jewellery. IT is our job to be thankful and recognise what they are trying to do, but to also re-educate them to what is OK and acceptable in our culture. Letting them know that smaller gifts are fine, chocolates over money or a small quality item over a quantity of goods.
*Schools often close down for bombing and rebuilding. A child might be in their 8th year of school but only have attended school for 6-8 months of each year. When asked “were you away from school for any long periods?” they may not admit to being away because “perfection is expected”.
Family issues faced during transitions to new countries include;
-changes to family structure while trying to keep their culture
-change of roles, responsibilities and duties of child, mother and father
-Importance of communication
-Understanding the role of volunteers
*African culture keeps grandparents in the family to learn from, to tell their stories so that their grandchildren can learn their cultural beliefs
*Family relationships are Very Important, shown by practising respect to older people
*Children show respect by NOT looking in your eye, but also learn to change to be part of their new culture
*The Man is ‘head of the family’, the breadwinner, while the Woman is the ‘Backbone’ of the family, looking after children and logistic duties like bills, food, and money – the man will ask for money and special foods as required. This can be especially difficult when families first come over and centrelink provides the mother with larger family payments and the man looks for work on unemployment benefits. Although the money still goes to the wife, the husband no longer has his sense of place in the family, because He is not giving it to her. (Same in Iran’s culture)
*Wife does not take the family name. The children take the dads name and if the family separates the kids go to the Dad, because the fathers family had paid a dowry in advance.
Dates of Birth are not always known, as birthday celebrations are not part of their culture. That being said, once their children realise that most Australians celebrate birthdays, the kids ask for one too and celebrate their birthday as special as they settle into their new environments.
*Single Mum’s have lots of difficulties, papers and permission notes may take longer to be returned to schools as they may have to go through the Dad first or be delayed due to lack of communication skills.
*African culture is not familiar with volunteers, and families may wonder who these extra people are that spend time with their children or what they are doing. Expressing that the people are just here to help is often enough of an explanation.
Focus of this talk revolved around
-Problems for families with children who have disabilities
-Impact of disability or illness
_Intellectual disability and physical disability
*There can be difficulties in creating Negotiated Education Plans due to language, assessment and trauma experienced.
*Topic is sensitive for families, a BIG Taboo in Bosnian culture to address disabilities openly
*Children who are born with disability cause stress, beyond the disability and health implications themselves, due to cultural restrictions and blame
Common themes when responding to disability
-Blame – patriarchal, the mother gets the blame for the child’s disability
-AN inability to reconcile with the disability in the long term
-Embarrassment and Isolation due to shame and the stigma attached
-Long term family stress and marital breakdown, dissolving relations with siblings
-Rejection of child with disabilities- Dad’s leave, Mum;s blamed and reduced economic status
*Parents will hide a disability from school and families and other students. With meetings, select teacher and the principal will know, NOT the students or community
Don’t ask what the disability is, let child tell you or avoid talking about “it”. Treat them like other
*The child who has a disability is at risk of losing future prospects of marriage. Men may marry of lower standard than the family would expect of other children, while females usually won’t “because they have a fault”
*Families may put children into hiding or miss school and functions for treatment or to avoid revealing illness
*Difficulty accessing support for families through groups etc. due to cultural nature of hiding subject
Strategies for working with children of CALD (Culturally and Linguistically Diverse) families
*be aware of gender roles- female talking to female OK, female talking to boy ok, male talking to female needs familial male supervision
*Identify issues of touching – most Bosnian families prefer not to touch or make eye contact (disrespectful), makes don’t shake hands with females, keep a distance at greetings between genders
*be sensitive in approaching the type of disability
*In consultation with teachers about concerns stress that the importance of tests and assessments is to “help the child”. The families are desperate for help but equally desperate that no-one knows
*Explain the role of the CLO’s (Community Liaison Officers) how they are an important link to their communities
*The impact of the worker is enhanced by the families ability to trust them and to meet on common ground
*Vietnamese children are ALL children of refugees, international students or Migrants – each is dealing with a sense of displacement
*Their names have been Anglo -Saxon-ised because the families think they sound ‘wrong’. We need to help parents to learn that ‘we can celebrate his/her name if you help us learn it’. Basically it’s a beautiful name, why change it?
*Work with students to pronounce names like Dung, Phat and Phuk well and promote acceptance and understanding
*When addressing parents, call them Mr or Mrs and their FIRST name. In their community there are too many wongs etc. so this is how they’ve counteracted it
*Women keep their maiden names, children take fathers name
*Don’t accept a smile as understanding, smiling in the Vietnamese culture and mean happy, not happy or hiding something
*Encourage manners, a nod of the head can indicate ‘Thank you’ but it’s important to remind them to say Thank you, Excuse me etc.
*Yes and No questions are very confusing , so they will often give the wrong answer
Vietnamese New Year is Very Important. It is Everyone’s Birthday. Which can cause confusion in ages. For instance a child born in November will be 4 months old, but turns one year old on the New year, and 2 on the next new year. Children enter school at age 4, that’s new year age.
*International Students are often without family or contacts and tend to gravitate towards other international students. Including them in groups or after school activities helps build up little communities for them
*For a while there were lots of mandatory reports made on the Vietnamese students and families, as they would come to school with large marks on their foreheads, necks or backs. However, part of the culture if to use Eucalyptus oil for colds. When rubbed on the skin of someone with NO infection, there is NO mark. When rubbed on someone WITH a cold or flu, it leaves a red or coloured mark for a few days, as it alleviates the symptoms of the illness. This misunderstanding could have been avoided by talking to your CLO first
Columbia, Chile, El Salvador
*There are NO volunteers in their home country, the concept of giving time is something they learn in Australia
*Refugees from the 70’s came from lot’s of violence, which is still experienced today by lots of sadness in their families, by slow learning or learning disabilities, Some are living with grandparents where both parties are dealing with effects of grieving from loss of parents/children
*Child is prompted to say “I know” even if they don’t’ understand
*Culture is based on kindness, so it is devastating for children to experience meanness or cruelty. Children get nightmares and families cleanse with prayers and support from God
*Religion and Family are the two main parts of their culture and not to be dismissed.
*Parents keep their parents in their homes until death, no nursing homes
*Children will point out disabilities as a fact, not ridicule
*Children are ‘street urchins’, preferring to live and play on the streets to get a healthy course of germs and boost to immune system
*When addressing parents use Senor or Senora with their first name – no last names
*Kissing is a normal greeting – even for strangers
*Education system is built on a pass or fail strategy. You Need 3 passes to move up a grade. So the class is of combined ages. You may find year one classes with students aged 4 to 20 years old.
*Parents get confused as to why their children are promoted in Australian schools if they are not doing well.
*Lunch is the most important meal of the day. Soups and meals are made to share with families
*Chile children are not used to sitting on floor with their legs crossed. That is only for the ‘naughty’. They are used to sitting on chairs.
Teach parents and families HOW to react to issues ie Take to doctor, see health nurse
*Parents will change their minds LOTS, it’s part of their culture of thinking things through, learn to go with the flow 🙂
*Notes that a lot of what has been said already is also relevant to this culture
*Family structure, Dad is head of the family, the wife looks after the money, food and kids. Wife supplies husband with his ‘spending money’
*Normally the husband speaks English, so he opens bank accounts. Nowadays the females know how this works and families get joint accounts
*Very good to teach manners, new arrivals and older people not used to Please, Thank You and Excuse me
*New arrivals may look down, be shy and smiling – it’s a sign of respect
*Birthdays aren’t celebrated in Cambodia, but after a while in Australia the children talk parents into joining in. Now they make birthdays Bigger than Australians, giving gifts of money like for weddings
*Some children (and parents) don’t remember birth dates, only the month and year. Lots of people make up birth dates as they need these for Refugee, UN and Australian paperwork.
*In Cambodia the New Year is roughly in April. Everyone ages then, (see Vietnamese birthday’s) although because they follow the lunar calendar they follow the year of the Tiger, Rabbit etc. and this might not gel with the Australian/Roman calendar.
Question and Answer Time
*It is OK to ask if families are Migrant or Refugee, each family will usually answer and divulge as many details as they are comfortable with. But don’t’ press harder than they are willing to give.
*Each CLO agreed that they would prefer to see understanding of their culture and respect for special holidays and beliefs in classrooms, but would like to see their children assimilating into Australian culture, language and traditions through schooling.
*When dealing with loss and grief:-refer to Anglicare grief centre or Smith family etc.
– Keep the memory alive, make a box of items relating to memories of that person
– Importance of mourning, to feel the loss and that family is here for you.
-Bring flowers to the grave
-Loving = Healing
-Express feeling, if you do have a home visit wear dark, not colourful clothes for the first few days
-family provides tea or sweets to people who care for children to celebrate with
-49 prayer days at home
-if someone is very ill DO NOT give flowers, this means a wish of death
-40 days of visits then a wake. Visitors may bring flowers or a plate of food to share with other or nest visitors
-Acknowledgement is very important. Sometimes women wont’ go to funerals. There are 40 days of mourning then prayer and a gathering
*What sort of physical contact is ok or not acceptable?
Asian -Don’t pat Asian heads, patting arms is OK for consoling
Serbia – No pats on head, hugs OK. Before christening be aware of the Greek Orthodox belief of the Evil Eye – no people in Babies faces or photos etc. (shared belief with Bosnia)
Bosnia – Avoid touching. Head touch is OK, kissing on babies forehead ONLY
Middle East – boys and girls to touch or kiss OK, by 10/12 not Ok to touch girls unless it is female to female. Females and males will touch and kiss in greeting
Cambodian – sometimes misunderstandings, kids will tell parents “Don’t touch me”. Important to teach the differences between OK touches and Not ok. Between hurting and helping.
African – Sudanese touching is normal between boys, girls and others. By 15 a girl is a woman not good to touch. Shaking hands OK
– Northern Sudan and Somalia from Islamic religion, so touching not Ok
Sudanese boys are initiated at 16. They go as a group for a walk to be recognised as children moving to Adulthood. In Africa, groups of 100 walk for 3 months, then you get eh marks on your head and/or circumcised. In Australia there are three main groups of Africans, those who fall under EG (Egypt), KG (Kenya) and ET (Ethiopia), these boys do their walks in these groups but also might be lead to fighting amongst groups.
All agree that the “Steiner Touching technique” is Ok, where you create a space around the child with your arms, their back to your front (not face to face).
*last points –
Africa – Sudan and Ethiopia are different countries, Africa is a continent. IN Sudan Alone, there is over 560 languages.
-Sudanese have a strong community network of Aunts, Uncles and family to step in if family violence or children go wayward.
Bosnia – Cultural Holidays, plan events and school excursions around Ramadan and the 3 days of eating. Children may be away or unable to participate in activities.
Cambodia – 13,14,15 April every year are main holidays with possible exemptions from school.
All – When dealing with a child’s progress or assessment, look at language support, interpreter for parents and be aware that language barriers and cultural beliefs may cause isolation. Let them know that you are here to Help the child and the interpreter or CLO can help them understand and connect with others from their culture.