Knitting breaking down social barriers in Brisbane | Pacific Beat

Knitting breaking down social barriers in Brisbane

Knitting breaking down social barriers in Brisbane

Updated 27 December 2012, 9:42 AEDT

For many Australians, the Christmas holiday season is an isolating time if friends and family are not near and if religious traditions differ.

But an innovative community program at Kelvin Grove in Brisbane, has fostered friendships between newly arrived Muslims and non-Muslims and across age barriers.

And the uniting factor is the age-old art of knitting.

Presenter: Nance Haxton

Speakers: Enka from Mongolia; Michaela from Eritrea; Antoinette Hudson; Cait Wildman, Community development worker; Iranian refugee Sara Tavakoli.


(SFX - chatter "so how do I get these colours to go on there? oh right...")
HAXTON: Knitting blankets for the needy is not something that springs to mind as the basis for cross-cultural friendships.
But this group of women from a range of countries and generations meet at every week at Brisbane's inner northern hub of Kelvin Grove, to swap sewing tips and cultural insights.
(SFX - chatter) 
At today's meeting there's women from Eritrea, Mongolia, the United States and Iran.
Michaela from Eritrea says she loves looking around the knitter's group and hearing the different accents, and feeling more at home.
MICHAELA: Yes I have a lot of friends, different place, different culture. There's some women they bring some food. Yeah I love the food!
HAXTON: While 88 year old Antoinette Hudson says she has loved meeting women she never would have otherwise.
HUDSON: So I can knit at home but it's much more fun to come around here and have a cuppa and have a chat while I'm knitting and doing it for some charity. 
HAXTON: Many in the group have come to Australia to study or support family members who are studying at nearby universities.
Community development worker Cait Wildman says knitting has proven to be a great way to bring women together and overcome loneliness.
WILDMAN: A lot of the spouses were quite isolated in their homes. The children were going to school but the parents weren't able to help with their homework. So the exchange is a response to that eclectic group of people.
HAXTON: The group has grown from it's knitting beginnings to buddy up more than 70 volunteers to help new migrants with English.
The Exchange, as it is known, also provides free tutoring programs for young children who have just moved to Australia, as well as community choirs and social table tennis.
The centre recently won the inaugural national Award for Muslim and non-Muslim Understanding from the University of South Australia and the Australia Day Council.
Ms Wildman says the award is a tribute to the people who meet there.
WILDMAN:  The sharing culture, it's sharing food as well as language and friendship.
HAXTON: I suppose too it breaks down some of the barriers that perhaps people from Middle Eastern countries feel in the community as well?
WILDMAN: Definitely, it breaks down all those stereotypes and that's what was here when we first came, because there was no one doing that linking across. We had a lot of people being inappropriate with middle eastern women, not understanding that they couldn't touch them and they were worried when they said hello why they wouldn't talk back to them,so we've been able to run some cross-cultural programs to help the local community understand that as well.
HAXTON: They've made 16 blankets for Save the Children's charity work.
This is something that makes Iranian refugee Sara Tavakoli proud.
TAVAKOLI: It's good for me and for practising English and I enjoy and like helping people.
HAXTON: So it's good to give these beautiful blankets to charity as well?
TAVAKOLI: Yes, I like it yes. I enjoy this plan, it's wonderful. 
HAXTON: Enka from Mongolia says without the knitters group, she would have few friends in her new home.
ENKA: When we are knitting we are talking about our lives, our children our countries it was very interesting. I am not so good at knitting but the other ladies are very good at it. I also learn from them.


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