On Monday the 20th of May 2019 Ambulance Victoria and the Australian Intercultural Society co-hosted the 4th annual Ambulance Victoria Iftar dinner at the Beletti restaurant in Dandenong. The dinner was hosted by the Board of Ambulance Victoria with our official host Mr Ken Lay AO APM and featured a keynote speech by Professor Yosry Morsi of Swinburne University.
The night was full of laughter, good food and promoted conversation between a diverse crowd of people on topics that are rarely discussed day to day.
The evening began with an introduction from Tony Walker (CEO, Ambulance VIC) acknowledging all who worked tirelessly to create Iftar dinners such as this one. Tony shared a statement from the honorable Richard Wynne MP (Minister for Multicultural Affairs), which recognises the ritual of Iftar as “a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with family, friends, and members of the community and reaffirm our shared values.”
Tony stated the purpose of the evening is to recognise that “having a diverse workforce that reflects the wider population is critical if we are to truly provide the best care to our community. We acknowledge and understand that people need to feel safe….and to truly access our services we have worked very hard to ensure cultural literacy across our organization.”
The program continued by calling Ahmad Womiq Ghosi, who was trained in the reciting the Quran, to lead the room in an exquisitely beautiful call to worship. Tony then introduced the Chair of the Board for Ambulance Victoria and former Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police, Mr Ken Lay AO APM to the podium. Ken is also a non-executive Director of the Essendon Football Club, the Chair of the Victoria Institute of Forensic Mental Health, as well as the co convener of the Defence Inclusive Leadership Network. In 2017, Ken was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Victoria and appointed officer of the Order of Australia for his work relating to social and community leadership. Ken recognised the Australian Intercultural Society’s efforts for having “taken many community organisations on this journey to make us better organisations and help us better understand our community”.
Ken addressed the crowd, saying “Tonight is an opportunity for us all to celebrate our diversity while strengthening relationships and understanding between us all”. Ken claims he would argue that “building relationships and celebrating diversity is an absolute fundamental role for community and organizational leaders like many of you in the room tonight”. Ken called upon the audience to understand the true purpose of the evening. “Unless we develop an understanding so we can celebrate our differences, and whilst consolidating our common goals. Unless we can actually commit to working together to build a cohesive and inclusive society, then we simply cannot create the community where our children and grandchildren will thrive, where communities can live in peace and where we can respond appropriately and decisively when we are all tested and that time will come.”
The evening continued with delicious food and in depth conversations between members of all walks of life gathered at tables to break bread in the conclusion of the daily ramadan fast.
The next speaker was Professor Yosry Morsi, who discussed his advancements in “Bio-engineering of artificial scaffolding in a tissue culture laboratory”. Prof Morsi addresses healthy living as something quintessential to all human beings, not just one group. He also points out that the people who are working so hard to improve the health of others come from all walks of life.
“If you go to my lab.. You find people from all over the world – Chinese, Malaysian, Venetian, everybody from different beliefs, different religions, different cultures, all of them have one thing in mind… to help people, to help sick people… to address a problem that is significant to all humans, and remember, we all smile in one language.”.
We were able to speak with Prof Morsi after the evenings conclusion, where he spoke of the importance of programs such as the Ambulance Victoria Iftar, stating that “It’s very important to bring people together and find common ground so we can work together to achieve the ultimate goal of being a human. And if people forget about religion and politics and that nonsense, we can achieve that goal. Bringing people from different backgrounds, bringing people together and trying to understand each other, and to understand that we are all human, regardless if you are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Indian, Pakistan, Australian, British, it doesn’t really matter. It’s what you are that defines you, what you are as a person, how we are conscious like that. And after all, religion is a consciousness, you do the right thing, and all religions always call for peace and love and comradery. I came her today, for the first time actually, to be engaged in this sort of activity and I enjoyed it tremendously.”
The evening concluded with some thoughts from members of the crowd and a final statement from AIS Executive DIrector, Ahmet Keskin. Keskin addressed all in attendance, both Muslim and Ambulance Victoria in recognition of their efforts to unify and aid the community.
“I’m sure many of our doctors, our nurses, our paramedics, and health professionals do their duty not because its a job, and it helps pay the bills but its a vocation that has been with them ever since they can remember. And it doesn’t need me standing up here and reminding us of the role Ambulance Victoria plays, I’m sure each one of us in this room has been touched by the professionalism, and the care our paramedics exhibit during their work and you are all heroes and we salute you all”.
Ahmet spoke of the goals of the Australian Intercultural Society – to create a more unified and educated community. He spoke on behalf of the organizations belief that “everyone has a place in society. [We are] appreciative and respective of their faith, ethnic or cultural heritage, or political ideology, or any other orientation they might have. Conversations shared tonight leads to better understanding and acceptance of each other and reminds us of the binding common denominator, our oneness in humanity and our willingness to strive towards a just and cohesive society.”
After the programs conclusion we were able to collect the following statements on the benefit of programs like this one to society as a whole. Ken Lay claims that “our community has changed, the way we work with the community has changed, and this is a really good opportunity to broaden our thinking, broaden our understanding, because it makes us a better organisation, it makes us a safer organisation”. Tony Walker states that “It’s very important we (Ambulance Victoria) understand the cultures of all of the community we’re serving, and that they understand us. It’s important that we do understand each other so that when we do come together in those times of crisis, we are better prepared and have a better understanding of each other’s needs”
Scott Chapman, CEO of the Royal Flying Doctors Service states: “I’m from the Royal Flying Doctors Service and we have a very large and very diverse work force and often because we’re isolated around Australia, we don’t get to mix and learn from each other so tonight just reminds me that we need to do something like this, and I’ve given a commitment that the royal flying doctors will have an intercultural dinner sometime this year.The opportunity to sit down in a busy life and take time just to meet new people is pretty rare, so it was really great for me.”
Greg Smith, Director of Ambulance Victoria and Chair of Country Fire Authority states the program’s benefit to society in saying “Any program that talks about inclusiveness benefits society, so that we can all be comfortable with each other. It is an enormous benefit to society.”
Tasneem Chopra, Director of Ambulance Victoria states “These programs take inclusion from being something we talk about to something we do.”
Tina Hosseini, the Victorian Multicultural Commissioner reflects on the evening, saying “Tonight was fantastic! I really commend AIS but also Ambulance Victoria on their leadership. I think it’s important to have service providers working the space, working with communities, and building those relationships and really showing commitment to breaking those barriers down and building that nice cultural work in terms of the work that everyone is doing.”
Anthony Stafford from the AFP commends AIS on their ability to unify communities. “Tonight is just another example of the AIS doing what they do, which is bringing communities together. It just shows the expansive reach that AIS and other community leaders have, it’s brilliant.”
“Its bringing people together” says Hussain Hanif from Cricket Victoria, “it’s a plate of food, and initially its good for connection, harmonious connection, people are understanding Islamic faith, but also what people do in this community”.
Overall, the Ambulance Victoria Iftar was a great success, and all members of the community in attendance were excited to see what the future holds for the program in its continuing years.