Australia-Thailand Intstitute

ATI Funded Grant Projects

The Muslim Leadership Program 2012 – Impressions from southern Thailand

Anissa Naksewee

The Muslim Leadership Program (MLP) has been organized for six years by the Center for Dialogue, a research institute of La Trobe University in Melbourne, on conjunction with the Islamic Council of Victoria, the peak body representative of the state's more than 100,000 Muslims. The MLP is supported by the state government of Victoria, but the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Australia-Thailand Institute make possible the participation of two Thai delegates. This year, there was a total of 18 participants, including nine from Victoria, one from Sydney and two each from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and my home country of Thailand.

The five weeks of the MLP have been an eye – opening experience. Coming to Australia has affected my life in many aspects. I knew very little about Australia and had never expected this country to be made up of some many different cultures. The first day of MLP, I was thrown into a heated discussion about multiculturalism policy. By listening to the discussion, I thought of my country in the back of my mind and realized that Thailand was also a diverse country but we have not, until now at least, had a formal recognition of this diversity. This realization is something that I have taken home with me.

By second week, all of us went to Canberra and Sydney to experience different parts of Australia. In Canberra, we visited the Parliament House and spoke to many politicians. It was a privilege opportunity to talk to those working in the decision making body and have our voice heard. Then we also visited the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Having an international relations background, I especially enjoyed this visit. It was interesting to learn more about Australian foreign policy and its stance about global issues. The MLP also gave me the chance to interact with people of many different faiths including Buddhists, Catholics, Jews, Anglicans and even Shi'a Muslims. By visiting these different communities, we were able to create personal relationships without prejudice. This was very valuable and powerful.

I feel so grateful to be a part of Muslim Leadership Program 2012. Beside the new knowledge, skills and insights about Australia which I acquired, I also made new friends who shared the five weeks with me. It wonderful meeting Australians – Muslims and non-Muslims – from all walks of life. We shared our experiences, we exchanged thoughts and we had fun. Even though the program has ended, our bond continues. I hope we can visit each other again and I know that these friendships will be lifelong.