“We wanted to give our supporters an opportunity to see the world through the eyes of refugees and Sami’s play.”
The Sir Zelman Cowen Centre at Victoria University ran a special event at the Coopers Malthouse Theatre last week to thank the generous donors who support the Centre’s work.
Specialising in ‘law and cultural diversity’, the Centre has undertaken many innovative projects to build the knowledge, skills and sense of belonging of newly arrived communities. Osamah Sami’s play Good Muslim Boy was the perfect opportunity to bring donors together for some ‘deep engagement’ with the trials and tribulations of being an outsider in another culture.
Osamah Sami’s play, based on his book of the same title which won a NSW Premier’s Literary Award in 2016, dramatises one part of the book – a tragi-comic account of Sami’s endeavours to bring home his cleric father’s body from Iran after his father’s sudden death there on a trip with his errant son.
The play, directed by Janice Muller, is an everyman story of bungling bureaucracies and miscommunication underscored by the ever present tensions of war and a fundamentalist political system. The Director explained that her dramaturgical approach was radical empathy – encouraging the audience to identify strongly with the situation of the protagonist as a way of entering into other cultures.
It is one thing to read a grant application and quite another to come to understand the issues we are attempting to redress through our projects in this creative way. We wanted to give our supporters an opportunity to see the world through the eyes of refugees and Sami’s play, like his very engaging film, Ali’s Wedding, personalises the experiences and, in so doing, humanises the migrant story.
The Sir Zelman Cowen Centre’s vision is to ‘educate the community about the law and lawyers about the community’. Some of the relevant projects undertaken by the Centre in law and cultural diversity include, the first ever training program for Muslim Imams in ‘Principles of Australian Law’, as well as a training program for informal women leaders from diverse communities on family law and family violence so that they could be contact and referral points for other women. The extension of the latter project to ‘home-gatherings’ allowed the women who had been trained to arrange small events for other women from their own communities to learn and discuss ways of dealing with family violence.
Other projects undertaken by the Centre and supported by partners and government include a young women’s leadership and governance training program, ASPIRE, which builds the capacity of talented young women already active in community organisations. Last year, the young women produced a set of resources on topics such as how to hold an effective board meeting, managing volunteers and fundraising, which are now being widely distributed among community organisations. This year’s program has a ‘train the trainer’ focus, with the young women preparing to run workshops on topical governance issues for their communities (see video of last year’s program).
Another focus of work for the Centre is the delivery of a schools outreach program for disadvantaged high school students. The objectives of the program are to support students from disadvantaged areas to complete high school, increase their understanding of the legal system, and encourage them to consider careers in the wider justice sector (see more here).
Universities are dependent on securing additional sources of funding for all of their activities not directly related to teaching. Increasingly, philanthropists are being asked to fill the funding gaps as government withdraws from the field.
There are many calls on the resources of donors, not the least of which is their time. An invitation to attend a very popular theatrical production was designed to provide a creative way of engaging the philanthropic sector. From all accounts, new connections were formed among and between the invitees, the university and the Malthouse. A great time was had by all!
Professor Kathy Laster is the director of the Sir Zelman Cowen Centre.
Want to find out more about Good Muslim Boy? Go here.