By Evelyn Leckie –
A NEW Indian playgroup in Beveridge hosted its official opening last week, celebrating with traditional dancing, speeches and a lighting the lamp ceremony.
The program, announced by Education Minister James Merlino in November, aims to develop partnerships between schools and the state’s increasing Indian community.
Beveridge Primary School principal Steven Fernando welcomed the new kindergarten transition program, saying it was a vehicle to build mutual cultural understanding.
“We wanted this program to support not just the children but families of the children,” Mr Fernando said.
Leader of the “Dwaraka’ playgroup Shanthi Antony said the playgroup’s name meant gateway.
“This program will be the children’s gateway for their educational path, as well as the entrance for parents for intercultural understanding and cultural assimilation,” Ms Antony said.
Ms Antony acknowledged the negative feedback the initial announcement received in November, with many people critical of the government funding an Indian-only program.
“People have the right to freedom of speech. If I were to look at a particular community being given a grant, I would think – why just them,” she said.
“We will ensure this is not about segregation, this is about cultural assimilation and through this program the community learns to be interdependent.”
The childcare leader said her own experience of moving to Australia made her passionate about helping other Indian families.
“In the Indian culture, a girl can get married to someone she doesn’t know at all,” she said.
“I have gone through that situation, I was engaged to my would-be husband four days before meeting him.
“When I came to Australia, I had lived with him for only 10 days. I hardly knew him and knew no one else here.
“It’s been a journey and that’s one of the reasons why I love providing guidance to families who are going through similar situations.”
The playgroup will be every Wednesday mornings from 9.30am to 11.30am at the Greater Beveridge Community Centre.
“We’re planning to have information sessions once a fortnight for parents on maternal and child health services, and helping parents to understand the Australian schooling system,” Ms Antony said.
Member for Yan Yean Danielle Green participated in a lighting the lamp ceremony and said the government’s $25,000 investment in the program would equip Beveridge students to develop their global citizenship and intercultural capabilities.
Beveridge Primary School was one of 11 Victorian schools to receive the grant.