Australian Ambassador, Dan Ryan tells us why cultural diversity is important to him.
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My name is Dan Ryan, and this is my story of cultural diversity.
“10 year old Daniel Ryan has never been to school, and probably never will” and so began the first local newspaper article I was in. The reporter was right. The question I’m always first asked when people find out I did natural learning from home is “how do you make friends” or “how did you socialise?”
My ‘school’ comprised of me and my five younger siblings, so there wasn’t much cultural diversity. I participated in a faith group, sports clubs, my local community, hobby communities and became friends with other homeschoolers. It all seemed pretty natural really, and natural socialisation in Australia includes cultural diversity by definition. Some people are surprised to hear that this island down under, that we call ‘Oz,’ is home to people who identify with more than 270 ethnicities, speak more than 260 languages and observe all of the world’s religions.
(The South Australia Youth Minister's Advisory Council)
When I was in my early teens I started playing football in my local park. Football was an invitation for all young Australians from different background to socialise and meet new people. This open invitation lead to us playing almost every weekday for nearly two years. Refugees from Afghanistan, Sudan, Sierra Leone, and Pakistan were all welcomed to play. Language barriers were easily overcome in the heat of the competition and ‘goal’ was a word we could all understand.
The almost complete lack of structure and absence of adults created a relaxed environment. Every water break provided a great opportunity for mutual understanding and learning. We learnt some of the basic words in each other’s languages and more about their countries of origin. My three sisters played soccer with us, which later lead to other girls joining in, despite being inhibited by their clothing.
Since then, my career has taken me from hospitality, to retail fashion marketing, to volunteering in developing countries, working in international development and most recently the United Nations as the 2012 UN Youth Representative for Australia
(The 2012 United Nations Youth Representatives)
Through these different environments, I have had the unique privilege of working closely with people from many different cultures. With the appreciation of cultural diversity comes a responsibility, especially once the touch points have been created. This means that racism ‘stops with me’ and it has also played a role in motivating my volunteering with youth movements against extreme poverty.
In these movements I have recognised that key to the success of these fundraising and policy-influencing campaigns is to create a dialogue on the issues. Innovative ways to start the conversation were key and this included everything from the now very popular Live Below the Line Campaign encouraging Australians to live on $2 a day to raise sponsorship funds and promote awareness of extreme poverty.
This cultural diversity day gave me the opportunity to ask different people about their opinions on what it means to them. From taxi drivers to promotional staff at the airport and my colleagues through to people who’ve shared their thoughts on my blog, it provided an opportunity to create dialogue on the subject. It was a privilege to share some of the perspectives on my blog and through the One Young World Twitter account with fellow Ambassadors: Ajarat Bada and Noni Hlophe.
One Young World has been a highlight event in my calendar for the last two years in connecting me to such an incredible mix of cultures and inspiring people, where, through discussions and shared ambitions, many have become good friends.
The social media landscape that we are growing up with is a powerful force. The digital revolution has helped to bring people together from across the globe and find a sense of community, friendship and kinship that transcends national boundaries. However we know that new media are not immune to old problems. Regrettably, we have seen violence and intolerance are just as common in the virtual world as the real world.
At a local level, for young people, this can manifest as cyber bullying. After I delivered a speech at a school in outback Australia, a fifteen year old girl said to me, “what they (a different racial group) said about me on Facebook, made me feel unsafe and like nobody loves me. Sometimes it would cause me to self-harm.” What should our response be to cyber bullying and similar problems? The solutions are the same as those that we have off-line; consciously dedicating ourselves to promoting a culture that treats people with tolerance, respect and dignity. By respecting people we strengthen their resolve and empower them to participate in society and celebrate diversity.
(Dan Ryan with the Eighth Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki Moon)
Through contributing to the One Young World Twitter discussion around cultural diversity we were able to contribute to being a part of the solution whilst encouraging others to do the same and it was a privilege to do so.