The story below reflects a really positive advocacy story occurring in our own community between the children of Bialik College and The Gambia, a predominantly Muslim African country. This article was sent to media around the world by AAP.
By John Coomber, Senior Sports Writer MELBOURNE, March 13 AAP -
The president of The Gambia's Olympic and Commonwealth Games committees had never before heard a question quite like this one.
A small boy of about seven got to his feet during assembly at Melbourne's Bialik College and in a clear voice asked Alhaji Dandeh-Njie: "Are you a new Gambian?"
Taken aback, Alhaji Dandeh-Njie - a former dual international in soccer and cricket and a distinguished international figure - assured his inquisitor that he was indeed a "thoroughbred Gambian" and asked why such a question had been addressed to him.
"Because in some places in Australia it is very hot and people are black. But not everyone," said the boy, who was trying to explain the concept of "new Australians".
If you wanted an example of the Commonwealth Games fulfilling its stated charter of fostering international friendship and understanding, this one took some beating.
The Gambia, a tiny and not very prosperous Muslim nation in West Africa, has formed a remarkable bond with this Jewish private school in the Melbourne suburb of Hawthorn.
Which is how the entire Gambian team and its officials, including the minister for Youth, Sports and Religious Affairs, Alhaji Samba Faal, came to be at the school assembly at Bialik College today.
They stood beneath the flags of Israel, The Gambia, Australia and the Commonwealth Games while the children sang Advance Australia Fair and the Hatikvah, the Israeli anthem.
In return, the Gambians played and danced to their own music, with light welterweight boxer Momodou Jammeh proving himself a star turn on the hand-drum.
The unlikely relationship is the brainchild of the Gambian team's chef de mission George Gomez, and Dr Ashley Kausman, a Melbourne businessman whose children are students at Bialik College.
Dr Kausman arranged for a gift of web cameras and headsets to be sent to schools in The Gambia so the children could see and speak to one another across the oceans.
The scheme created such excitement in The Gambia that it took a nationally televised ballot to decide which school should become twinned with Bialik.
Dr Kausman, who is attached to The Gambia for the Melbourne Games, was worried about the obvious difference in religions.
"I remember asking George Gomez whether it would be OK to be twinned with a Jewish school," Dr Kausman said. "He told me he was very sorry, but there are no Jewish schools in The Gambia (where 90 per cent of the population are Sunni Muslim)."
Once the confusion was sorted out, the relationship blossomed and reached full flower today. It was impossible not to be touched by the sight of large black African Muslim men saying "shalom" to small Jewish Australian kids, and sharing the simple joy of the occasion.
It might also have been instructive for headline hoggers like Jana Pittman, Tamsyn Lewis and Ron Walker to have been part of it.
They might have gained an insight into what the Commonwealth Games are really about. AAP jc/mg