Helen and I have been friends since we attended the University of New England (UNE) together. When I say together - I actually don’t mean we attended together pysically. We corresponded through the internet for five years…until 2006. We both completed our undergraduate teaching degree via correspondence. I was in Seattle and she was in Sydney. We did meet when we attended residential school in Armidale in 2006.
There, I finally met all the people who had supported me through five years of my undergraduate degree. At our table sat many friends, all with different religious beliefs. A born-again Christian, Jehovah's Witness, Muslim, and Catholic and yet we had never talked about our beliefs before. I did wonder why that was? But I realised our passion for 'Education' united us and had created this friendship.
When I returned to live in Australia, I called two of my uni friends. One, Helen from Sydney became one of my best friends. Every school holidays, Helen and I met for lunch. Sometimes she would bring her colleagues, sometimes it was just the two of us. At one point, Helen and I were speaking nearly everyday. She was my rock.
One day in the September holidays, we met at the Hilton for lunch, just the two of us. My husband called me and asked if we were still there. He was picking me up and told me it would be good if we finished up soon and he asked if Helen was ok. I didn’t quite understand what he was saying. When my family met us outside the hotel, they met Helen for the first time. Andrew went to shake her hand but she didn't respond. Andrew thought nothing of it since we’d lived and travelled throughout the world and understood that cultures vary. He asked if she was ok to get home and she said she was fine and set off toward the train station. When she left, I asked Andrew “What did you mean?” As we turned the corner I witnessed it for myself. The Muslim protests were happening in Sydney.
I was worried…what if someone took his or her anger out on Helen. I shared my concern with Andrew. So we messaged Helen to learn if she was safe. She texted - please explain to Andrew that she was sorry… sorry she couldn’t shake his hand, the hand of a male. I was still worried about her on the train, especially after walking around the streets where people were loudly sharing their beliefs. The tension was evident and I was concerned. When I got home, I texted Helen to make sure she was home safe. She hadn’t realised what had happened until she arrived home and watched the news.
Today, my husband was in lockdown in a building a block away from the Martin Street Siege. When he arrived home tonight, I mentioned what was happening on the news and on Twitter #illridewithyou. We talked about how scared I was for Helen over two years ago and how worried I was that people would take their anger out on anyone who resembled the religion of Islam.
Last year, Helen and her students helped my students learn about Islam as part of our unit on 'People and their beliefs'. The hijab was probably something that my students were most interested in. One of my goals as an educator is to help my students learn about various beliefs, religions and cultures. As global citizens, I hope they develop an understanding and empathy for all. I am proud that my children and students live in a generation where people have a better understanding of various beliefs and cultures. I respect Helen's beliefs and treasure her friendship. The people of Sydney and Australia showed their support and solidarity and #illridewithyou reflected this when it trended on Twitter.
Our prayers, thoughts and hearts go out to the those and the families involved in the Sydney siege.