Rhanee Tsetsakos (nee Lester) is used to teaching people about her Indigenous culture. Growing up in the Uniting Church, participants in the UCA’s About FACE program were semi-regular guests in her Port Augusta childhood home.
“I remembered how much I enjoyed it when I was a little girl and my parents were involved. I grew up having people come to visit us,” Ms Tsetsakos said.
“It’s a bit scary inviting strangers into your home, but my family has always been really welcoming of strangers.
“We just always make time to meet new people and build relationships and see where it takes us. My parents are very fond of building relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people.”
The About FACE program has been running for more than 30 years.
It is one of the ways the Uniting Church works with the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress to build understanding and respect between First and Second Peoples. Participants spend two weeks living in an Indigenous community building meaningful relationships with their hosts.
Social justice officer Jill Ruzbacky is the coordinator of About FACE. She says the acronym stands for ‘faith and cultural exchange’ and points out the importance of the ‘cultural exchange’ aspect.
“One of the things we emphasise is it’s not one of those programs where you are going to do something for someone. You’re not going to ‘fix a problem’,” Ms Ruzbacky said.
“You’re going to live alongside Congress communities, to learn and share together. The program is about celebrating the covenant relationship between the UCA and the UAICC.
“It’s hoped that people participating will be actively involved in both covenanting and working together for reconciliation both in the UCA and in their wider communities.”
Ms Tsetsakos said the opportunity to teach others about Indigenous culture and traditions was something her extended family embraced. She said it is encouraging that so many people from all walks of life – and all ages – want to be involved.
The last visit her parents hosted included two younger women, a woman in her 70s and Pastor Berlin Guerrero, who had recently arrived in Australia from the Philippines on a humanitarian visa.
“We just treated them as if they were any other family member coming to stay with us,” Ms Tsetsakos said.
“We gave them a rundown of who did what during the day and took them to different places so they came and saw where we worked and what we do in the community.
“We took them up to the Flinders Ranges. Aunty Denise Champion is my mum’s older sister. So with my mum and her two sisters, Aunty Denise and Aunty Colleen, we took them up to Wilpena Pound.
“Along the way, Aunty Denise told them stories about the landscape and our kinship systems, so they got a real dose of some of our history and stories.
“We had a great time with them; we did a bit of hiking and had lunch together in the Pound. On the way back we took them out to a bed and breakfast near Devil’s Peak and shared some more stories and time together.”
Ms Tsetsakos said the experience had been particularly eye-opening for one of the young girls on the trip.
“Kate didn’t actually realise the history of Aboriginal people and the struggles they had been through. It really touched her.
“When she went back to Sydney she ended up quitting her job and going to uni to become a history teacher so that she could teach the true history of Australia in schools,” Ms Tsetsakos said.
“It touches me when I think that if she hadn’t come on that journey and learnt what she did then she wouldn’t be on the journey she is on now.
“I think about all the students she will influence – it all started from About FACE.”
Ms Tsetsakos said that About FACE was a shared experience that enriches both hosts and visitors.
She told how at a church service in Port Augusta the About FACE participants were asked why they had decided to take part.
“Berlin was the first one to answer and what he said blew us all away,” Ms Tsetsakos said.
“He told us the story about how he wanted to come to Australia and the danger that he was facing in the Philippines. He thought that it was really important that he came and spent time with Aboriginal people and asked them permission to live in their country and bring his family over here.
“I was in tears when I heard that. He wanted to get permission from the First People to live in their land with his family for their own safety and wellbeing.”
Applications for the 2017 program close on Friday 5 May. To learn more go to: aboutface.org.au/or contact Jill Ruzbacky: firstname.lastname@example.org