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Cultural immersion builds deep understanding and connections

Daily yarning circles were part of the cultural immersion training in Sydney for cadets and Eva Burrows College Officer Formation staff.

“The cultural immersion training was a wonderful experience,” said Kirsten Wood, cadet-in-appointment at Perth Fortress Corps. “I spent quite a lot of my childhood and teen years in a city with a high percentage of Indigenous Australians, so I wasn’t too sure if I would learn more than I already knew. Boy, was I wrong! I learned so much from our experiences throughout the week, I have developed a deeper understanding of the Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander culture.”

Yarning circles, walks around historical sites and discussions with Indigenous leaders were all part of the Eva Burrows College (EBC) recent cultural immersion program for Salvation Army cadets and Officer Formation staff at EBC. The training took place in Sydney on 30 October to 6 November 2022.

Major Sharon Sandercock-Brown (Mission and Ministry Coordinator at EBC) worked with the Officer Formation Team, Captain Tamaryn Townsend (Officer Recruitment Secretary), Shirli Congoo (General Manager Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Ministry) and Sue Hodges (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Co-ordinator NSW/ACT) to put the program together.

Shirli and Sue led the activities throughout the week. These included watching and discussing the Mabo movie and the Australians Together series, a cultural walk around inner-city Redfern and a visit to Clark Island in Sydney Harbour for an experience of history, lore and dance. The social enterprise Tribal Warrior, which shares and empowers connections to culture and family, organised the excursions.

The group also interviewed a panel of three with different roles in The Salvation Army around how they engaged with and learned from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and culture. Panel members were Rod Yule (General Manager of Local Mission Delivery and Resources), Melissa Winnel (Operations Leader at Sydney Streetlevel Mission) and Lorelle Vince (Team Member, Greater West Salvos).

Cadets from all over Australia joined the cultural immersion training in Sydney.

“We weren’t just sitting in a classroom all week,” Sharon emphasised. “As well as our activities, Shirli and Sue also led yarning circles each evening where we shared our experiences and what we had learned.”

On the Friday, the group visited Kamay National Park, where the First Fleet landed in 1788. “We were able to respond, based on our learning, and do our ‘sorry’,” said Sharon.

Delegates also visited the Scarred Tree Indigenous Ministries at St John’s Anglican Church in nearby Glebe. On the final day of the training, the group worshipped together, spoke about their response to the week and focused on how to work for justice in the area of Indigenous Ministries.

“We were truly blessed to facilitate the cultural immersion in NSW/ACT,” said Sue, quoting 1 Peter 2:15-16. “The truth sets people free, and this week we witnessed many reconciliation moments and built connections that will last a long time after this week. The team and cadets were such a great bunch to hang out with.”

Kirsten added more about how the week had changed her thinking.

“I had impactful moments of realisation which have brought me to a space of deep respect for our first nations people, and I am so encouraged by the similarities between their culture and our Christian kingdom community ideals,” said Kirsten about the immersion experience.

Participation in dance and other elements of cultural life was part of the immersion training.

“Moving forward, I want to collaborate with our First Nations people, showing the utmost respect for them and their culture, working towards unity as God’s people.”

The cultural immersion training is part of EBC’s Reconciliation Action Plan and part of the overall national strategy for engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

“For us, it’s all about education,” said Sharon. “Our focus was to educate our cadets and staff, to provide opportunities to meet and have discussions with Shirli and Sue, to ask questions and to facilitate learning as we did things together. We also wanted to help set up our group for present and future learning.

“Next year, the training will be an individual and local experience where cadets are self-directed to understand local Indigenous peoples, their history, and what is happening in the local context.”


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