Fostering tolerance in regional areas

Students from La Trobe’s Bendigo campus are helping to foster tolerance and understanding between local and international students, as part of an innovative new anti-racism program.

After a successful pilot in 2018, the Dear CRIS program (Connecting Rural, Regional and International Students) was adopted by two Bendigo schools, involving more than 100 local students.

Co-founder and La Trobe student, Ms Ashley Eadon, said Dear CRIS connects students nationally and globally with pen pals in order to share personal stories and insights into their lives.

“In the simple act of writing and receiving letters, the students gain awareness of what it is like to live in another country, or to live, for example, as a newly arrived migrant in Australia,” she said.

“At a time when tolerance and understanding seems to be at an all-time low in many parts of the world, fostering connection between people from diverse backgrounds is more important than ever.”

Two hundred and fifty students across four schools are currently involved in the program, with Victory Christian College and Bridgewater-on-Loddon Primary School partnering with schools in Malaysia and Thailand.

Ms Eadon said the pilot program, run at one of the Bendigo schools last year, was a great success.

“As the program progressed, students who would initially write two paragraphs went on to write two pages. The teachers wanted to run the program again, while the students didn’t want it to end,” she said.

“Although we live in a global society, connected by digital technology, some people know very little about the lives of people in other countries – or, indeed, about culturally different people living round the corner.”

“By encouraging students at a young age to not only tolerate difference, but to embrace and enjoy it, we are hoping to put them on a path of greater acceptance and understanding, thereby combatting racism.”

Ms Eadon said the program also helps to improve students’ literacy and communication skills.

Founded in 2017 as part of the ABC’s Heywire program Dear CRIS is supported by YoBendigo, and funded by the FRRR ABC Heywire Youth Innovation Grant.

The three La Trobe students running the program – Ashley Eadon, Sarah Barber and Jesse Munzel – were recently selected to be a part of the ABC Trailblazers Program.

Part of the program included a week-long summit in Canberra, where the students discussed Dear CRIS with government officials, the Minister for Education and the Governor General.

The Dear CRIS program is currently run by six young locals: Ashley Eadon, Sarah Barber, Jesse Munzel, Ryan Peterson, Whitney Eadon and Cheyenne Cadence.