Cultural Exchange Program

BHIEC in Coonabarrabran 2007
Michael Harmey


Ambassadors of Diversity

BHIEC in Coonabarrabran

• More recently, BHIEC ambassadors for diversity travelled to Coonabarabran High School, in western New South Wales, to establish ties with the Gamillaroi Aboriginal community and other members of the school community. This exchange had a heart-warming impact on breaking down stereotypes and highlighting similarities. Without doubt, students from BHIEC benefited as richly as the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students of Coonabarabran High School. The exchange attracted a lot of positive attention in the local community, including a front page lead article in the Coonabarabran Times under the headline

“Diverse multiculturalism breaks down stereotypes.”

Last week, Coonabarabran High School hosted sixteen students from Beverley Hills Intensive English Centre in Sydney. The students were accompanied by their principal, Mr. Michael Harmey, and their teacher, Julie Ross, as well as the enigmatic Francis, who is a bilingual teacher's assistant from Sierra Leone.

"The students who attend the school are either migrants or refugees who have newly arrived from their country of origin," explained Head Teacher English, Mrs Sharyn Stafford.

"They spend up to nine months in the school before being integrated into mainstream schools. The school receives some new students every two weeks or so, often depending on international conflicts and migration patterns."

The students who visited Coonabarabran High School came from a diverse range of backgrounds, originating in Palestine, China, Vietnam, Sierra Leone, Lebanon, Philippines, India and New Caledonia. During their visit Coonabarabran High School organised various activities to allow them a taste of what it is like to live in rural NSW.

"The students were hosted by Col and Liz Welsh at Warrumbungle Holiday Camp, which allowed them to walk at night to Timor Rock. Francis commented that it brought back memories for him of Sierra Leone, when he had to travel at night to escape capture by the rebels," said Mrs Stafford.

"We were able to take the students on a tour ofthe Warrumbungle National Park and they loved visiting the observatory, White Gum Lookout and a tour of Tara Caves with Bill Robinson, Maureen Sulter and Sue-Ellen Tighe"

"In the afternoon they were lucky enough to experience some abseiing with Phil Draper and Rob Carter, while that night they had an evening at Skywatch where they were able to view the stars with- out the harsh city lights."

On Wednesday, Coonabarabran High School was "buzzing with excitement" as the visitors introduced themselves one at a time at assemblyFollowing this, their day was filled with cooking damper with Myra and Jill Cain, music with Ms Suthons and her elective music class and a fun afternoon of sport with the other students.

"The boys from Sierra Leone really know how to play soccer," Mrs Stafford exclaimed.

"That night we entertained several special guests at a barbecue with the SRC and prefects. Afterwards everyone had a full dance card at the social where our visitors showed off some really cool dance moves!"

At a formal assembly on Thursday the visiting students displayed a short video showing off their school. Senait (from Sierra Leone) performed a traditional Ethiopian dance that celebrates the coming New Year, while Coonabarabran High School's Aboriginal dance group demonstrated some traditional Aboriginal dances. Simone Hodges and Alexander Lee delivered a beautiful song and the visitors respthided with an amazing drumming performance.

"After recess the visitors spent some time at the agricultural plot where they sheared a sheep, handled some livestock and viewed a sheepdog in action. For some, it brought back memories of their own rural experiences in their country of origin," said Mrs Stafford.

"A memorable afternoon was spent withYear 12 where Francis shared his journey of escape during 1999 from Sierra Leone to Australia and then his recent visit home last year where he saw his mother for the first time in seven years. After his moving story we moved into small groups and the students were able to get to know each other better and share their journeys with each other."

Ms Stafford said the whole visit, although short, had an amazing impact on the students at Coonabarabran High School.

"Our students were able to meet students from other cultures and break down the media stereotypes that are generated so freely," she said.

"The warmth, innocence and open generosity of spirit that these students displayed to our students will be remembered for a long time to come. We hope to continue our connections with the school and that the visit will become a regular event in our school year."

concert classroom





Beverly Hills Intensive English Centr