THE Courage to Care Educational Program and Exhibition brings important messages directly to Regional Ballarat high school students through a free travelling program. Its messages are simple: Be an Upstander against prejudice and Each person can make a difference by the choices they make.
Developed and delivered by volunteers, Courage to Care empowers students to stand up against prejudice and bullying. Students who participate in the Program gain a unique insight into the impacts of bigotry and racism, brought to life through the stories of Holocaust survivors and their rescuers. The Program uses stories of courage and hope from Holocaust survivors and their rescuers to promote messages of kindness and caring for others. The program comprises a short film about the Holocaust and a history of discrimination plus a facilitated discussion designed to challenge embedded assumptions about human behaviour.
The Program introduces the concept of the Upstander – a person who demonstrates the courage to care. At each Exhibition, Courage to Care honours a Local Hero, an ordinary member of the local community who has acted in an extraordinary way on behalf of others. Individuals are nominated for their acts of selflessness and moral or personal courage. Since 1994, over 80,000 Victorian students have participated in this award-winning Program. The Program applies directly to a number of key learning areas of the school curriculum, expanding students’ understanding of their class work. Feedback from Victorian teachers and students who have participated in workshops is overwhelmingly positive.
The official launch of the Exhibition took place at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka (MADE) last Sunday and featured MADE Director Jane Smith as the keynote speaker as well as Sissy Austin, Indigenous activist and educator who was presented with an award for the Local Hero of the 2015 Ballarat Program.
There was also an emotional personal testimony by Holocaust survivor Harry Better.
Sissy was described as a young person who won’t take no for an answer, a person who doesn’t stand around shaking her fist angrily but rather does things to make a change.
Sissy, 20, spoke about a number of things but what stood out was the injustice of the stolen generation and the persecution of her people and land.
She shared the story of her grandmother Eileen Austin and her father Neville. “IN 1964 my father was born into the loving arms of his mum. My father was a happy baby, a baby that was to grow into his culture his identity. When my father as 15 months old my nana Eileen took him to the Royal Children’s Hospital with a suspected chest infection, like any caring, loving mother would,” Sissy said. “My father was admitted and required to stay in hospital overnight. The next morning nanna went to the hospital to see her baby, her son, her gift. He was gone. My father had been taken away by government authorities. He was made a ward of the state and my father was put into an orphanage. He was taken for one reason, was that he was an aboriginal baby, and the basis of his race and culture.”
One can only imagine the pain, tears and suffering that Eileen and the family went through.
For the next 16 years Neville was shuttled between institutions and foster care while his mother wrote repeated letters to the state government seeking the return of her son. “Finally after all these years the government decided he could go back. He was thrown out of state care as fast as he was thrown in,” Sissy said. “Imagine being told that your skin is darker than your brother’s because you don’t scrub hard enough in the bath, to then being told you are an aboriginal, a Gunditjmara man and part of the longest living culture in human history but you are also a member of the stolen generation. “My people are still suffering, my people are still hurting and my people are still in pain.” Sissy received a standing ovation for her speech. When Harry Better took to the podium the emotion was already evident not only in his demeanour but also in most of the audience. More than 70 years ago Mr Better was part of the holocaust that took the life of his mother and eldest sister and estranged his father from the family.
“When I start my talk I say my name because I lost my name for a number of years during the war. My name is Harry Better, I’m Jewish I’m a child holocaust survivor but probably above all I am a very proud person because I had someone who cared enough for me to make sure I stayed alive,” he said. That family risked their own lives and the lives of their children to keep Harry alive, hiding him from the Germans in most resourceful ways. Mr Better recounted the horrors through tears and fondness of those who had looked after him. He took us through his journey, through his eyes, from a very young child to his present life and his subsequent return to the village and the search for the family who had saved him. “The war turned me from a five year old boy to a five year old man,” he said. Courage to Care is an initiative of the service organisation B’nai B’rith. The program is proudly supported by the Victorian Department of Education & Early Childhood Development and philanthropists who effectively fund this world-class travelling program.