More than 1 in 4 people in NSW people in NSW were born overseas. Almost half of us have a parent who came to Australia from another country. The contribution of so many cultures to communities across Australia can’t be measured.

Harmony Week (March 15-21) celebrates this cultural diversity. It’s about inclusivity, respect and a sense of belonging – for everyone.

So, this year to mark Harmony Week, we spoke with some of the friends of The Centre for Volunteering to get their thoughts on inclusivity and how it relates to their volunteering efforts.

Ms Bijinder Dugal is on the Board of Directors at AASHA Australia Foundation, and she is very proud of all the work the Foundation does.

“Personally, I feel Australia is a beautiful, multicultural country,” says Bijinder.

“The Indian community has shown they mix very well with Australian society, we all love food and we all love music. The people who come to our temples and enjoy some food, they are very welcoming and fun loving people who are very accepting of other cultures.”

AASHA Foundation was established to help seniors from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) Communities, particularly those from South Asian Communities, achieve good physical and mental health and a good quality of life.

Throughout her time at AASHA Foundation, Bijinder has seen the ways experiencing different cultures can have a positive impact on young Australians.

“There is an Australian girl who has been volunteering with us for the last three years, they enjoy the warmth and welcoming, the music and even if they don’t understand they love the music and the food.”

“There is a lot to learn from each other.”

“Cultures are like little pieces of a puzzle and you need all of them for it to fit in. The picture would not be complete without all the cultures that make it up and add colour.”

Pictured: Three of the wonderful volunteers from AASHA Foundation. Bijinder Dugal centre.

Abla Tohamy Kadous is a shining example for volunteers in NSW through her advocacy for Islamic women.

Leaving Egypt to move to Australia in the 1960s, Abla knows what it’s like to set up life in a foreign land, and navigate the social, cultural and religious challenges it can bring.

She began her volunteering 35 years ago, when she established the Muslim’s Women’s Association before going on to set up the Islamic Women’s Welfare Association.

In 2019, Abla was recognised as the NSW Senior Volunteer of the Year by The Centre for Volunteering. She has also been named the 2022 NSW Senior Australian of the Year.

Abla’s biggest tip for volunteers: inclusiveness should always be actively encouraged.

“It is important to always be open to different cultures and beliefs and not discriminate against someone based on their beliefs, home country or appearance,”

“Take the person as they are.”

Abla believes that a way to bridge cultural divides is to share information, so both parties can understand each other better.

“In my volunteer work I love seeing people bringing different plates and having a feast together, people sharing stories about their families, their customs, their dress and religious practises such as Hindu and Sikh,”

“People love learning about cooking different dishes from different cultures.”

Abla also believes that young people have an important role to play in bridging any cultural divides.

The 2020 NSW State of Volunteering report found that young people make up a staggering proportion of the volunteer population, with 87.6% of youth in NSW undertaking volunteer activities.

Anhaar Kareem, Abla’s 15 year old granddaughter, is a part of this statistic and is already an essential volunteer at the Islamic Women’s Welfare Association. Last year Anhaar was applauded for her volunteering efforts and named the 2021 NSW Volunteer of the Year for the Mid Western Sydney region by The Centre for Volunteering.

Pictured: Three generations of outstanding women: Anhaar Kareem, Kareema Kadous and Abla Tohamy Kadous

Abla believes that young people like her granddaughter have a lot to offer their communities.

“Young people love to volunteer and help out, with organizing functions and taking out food,”

“Anhaar has always been excited to help, and I love seeing her potential grow.”

Watch a quick recap of the NSW Volunteer of the Year 2021 Mid Western Sydney and Macarthur regions, featuring Anhaar Kareem at the beginning.