Good weaving diversity into understanding

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Bula Vinaka, fakaalofa lahi atu, kia orana, mālō e lelei, mālō nī, talofa, talofa lava, kamusta, namaste, nī hăo, hola, tēnā koutou katoa.

The term “diversity and inclusion” has been bandied quite a bit recently.

What is diversity and why should we be inclusive? What do we need to do to work on inclusivity? What does it look like in practice in our schools, workplaces, social media, in strategic planning, in our Waitaki community?

I’m proud to live in a community that is home to so many ethnic groups. It indicates the changing Waitaki demographic and it highlights the importance of supporting this transition so we can all feel comfortable with each other.

It can be that first hurdle of learning how to engage with those different to ourselves. It can be about letting go of preconceived ideas about different ethnicities. It could also be about the way we communicate. A lot of the time it’s about being able to reflect how we position ourselves in relation to others.

Some reflection could be done to recognise that some of us are in more privileged positions than others by virtue of circumstance, socio-economic background, religion, age, ability, gender, language and ethnicity.

These characteristics create diversity. The more differences we have, the more diverse we are as a community.

We are privileged when our characteristics are recognised and accepted within our community. This gives us an advantage.

Those of us from different ethnicities learn to navigate Western spaces very well. We become used to speaking more than one language and we observe how people do things differently.

We also bite our tongues when we hear the odd offensive comment or see it on social media. Often it comes at the expense of denying a part of our “selves” in order to fit in. It often goes unchallenged. Inclusion is about taking into account people’s circumstances and characteristics.

I feel that it is important that we have these “uncomfortable” discussions in a safe, respectful and meaningful way preserve righteousness, but to develop genuine compassion, cultural understanding, to value each other.

An example of diversity and inclusivity is the Safer Waitaki “Family Fiefia” community event that is being held on February 8 and 9 . It is open to everyone and supports the goal to help create safer communities.

The process of organising this event required Safer Waitaki to be willing to utilise the cultural knowledge from our local Pasifika community leaders to shape how the event should be organised.

This model of working with community is called asset-based community development which redistributes power through decision-making.

It’s about recognising our own biases, connecting with each other and creating space for a co-design process and where discussions can take place.

Ideas are laid on the table and the value of talanoa (dialogue) helps us navigate it into a finished product that everyone can take pride in.

The process is just as valuable as the actual task. This is part of the kaupapa. It sets a precedent for how future projects can be undertaken.

We didn’t know how it would actually go, but the willingness to have honest, uncomfortable conversations with each other, being respectful of each other’s cultures and finding a middle ground to ensure everyone’s voices are heard is a good place to work from.

This is what inclusivity looks like in practice.

The respect for diversity around the planning table brought out each group member’s strengths, but we have to be open to considering this as a first step.

We could all consider ways to encourage diversity and inclusive practices in our schools, peer groups, social media platforms, workplaces and to embed community-wide.

Have a go.

Let’s open our hearts and minds to navigate those uncomfortable spaces with respect and compassion.

We can learn to pronounce names correctly, provide space to learn about each other’s cultures without criticism, be mindful of how we communicate on social media, engage in te reo Maori and understand indigenous perspectives.

Not to tick a box, but to appreciate the essence and value of what diversity and inclusion can mean for our Waitaki community.

Only then can we bring our “whole selves” into the room.

No reira, tena koutou katoa, malo ‘aupito, fa’afetai tele lava.

★ Hana Halalele is a Waitaki district councillor, co-ordinator of Talanga a Waitaki Powerup Flexi Plus, president of the Oamaru Pacific Island Community Group Inc and a mentor at Waitaki Girls’ High School.