Bridging the cultural divide: East African mums and daughters at Howmans Gap

New You #3

Teenagers clashing with their parents is nothing new, but a growing number of second generation Australian teens are finding their clashes go beyond simply what time they have to go to bed.

For many young people, they face the unique challenge of conflicting cultural divides with their parents who were born overseas.

According to the 2016 census 21% of the population are second generational Australians, which means they were born in Australia, but have one or both parents who were born overseas.

Shima Alhaj, founder of New You Camp, has experienced firsthand the problems caused by this culture-clash in East African families in Melbourne and as a result has developed The New You Camp to bridge the divide.

“These are teenagers who have grown up in Australian society and parents who have experienced a very different adolescence and culture in their African countries.

“The parents haven’t grown up with technology, they don’t understand everyday struggles of an Australian teenager like cyber bullying, so the tension caused can be enormous,” she said.

The first New You camp supported by YMCA Open Doors funding, ran over the March Labor Day long weekend and was attended by 32 mums and teens with East African backgrounds from the northern and western suburbs of Melbourne.

Held at YMCA Howmans Gap in the beautiful Falls Creek alpine region, the participants engaged in safe and supportive cross-cultural exchange through a range of workshops focusing on addressing teenage struggles such as identity crises, social media influence, mental health, discrimination, bullying, peer pressure, substance abuse with the support of Summayyah Sadiq-Ojibara - psychotherapist, counselor, life coach.

YMCA Howmans Gap Manager Michael Jowett said they were proud to support the New You camp and create a space where people of all backgrounds, cultures and faiths feel welcome and included. 

“At the YMCA, it is our priority to support programs that have positive health outcomes and creates social impact in marginalised communities, such as Melbourne’s East African community,” he said.  

One of the biggest struggles the mothers addressed at the camp was the use of social media and use of technology.

Fifty-two-year old mother Samira attended with her 13-year-old daughter Ranya. Samira arrived in Australia 25 years ago as a refugee from Eritrea and now lives in Derrimut.

“There is no social media when growing up, we played soccer or basketball. We played and ran around. I was a refugee at a camp in Sudan. Our generation was more natural, this one is smarter because of technology. But social media is not your future,” she said.

New You #2

Mothers and daughters connected on a deeper level after getting away from their usual routine, getting offline and spending quality time together

Samira also explained that for Eritreans the concern with social media was that her children are too consumed by it and are not concentrating on their education.  For East Africans settling in Australia one of the main priorities is to give their children a better opportunity of education, one they didn't have, or were given.

Ranya said school caused conflict for her and her mum, because they believe in different things.

“School is a big thing, they think it’s easier for us, there’s some areas I’m not very strong at but they think we should be good at everything. We need to teach our parents, “It’s not how when you were growing up,”” she said.

Forty-three-year-old mum Intesar from Greenvale also went on the camp with two of her teenage daughters. She came to Australia when she was 15 as a refugee from Eritrea and was always helping her mum with her six brothers.

“I never said no to my mum. Here it is so different, my daughters say “Mum, it’s not your business!” I’d never say this to my mum,” she said.

Through workshops, camp activities like archery and rope courses the participants learnt how to communicate more respectfully to one another while also having a lot of fun.

Ranya enjoyed learning how to stop arguments from occurring, “It’s about thinking about the other person’s perspective,” she said.

For Samira the biggest takeaway was about self-love, “I learnt the importance to look after yourself and love yourself first. Often we feel guilt that we’re not doing enough.”

New You #1

Sharing ideas and solutions to problems meant both mothers and daughters realised they were not alone, and their problems not unique

Intesar said that by relating with the other mums she has more became more calm and has stopped worrying so much about her daughters doing their homework. She has also developed a strong connection with other mums from the camp who often phone each other to chat.

“You think you’re the only one with stress, there’s a lot of people with stress. Everyone has their own thing and each mum has their own kind of stress. The camp taught me that I’m not alone out there,” she said.

YMCA Howmans Gap Manager Michael Jowett said the camp was addressing a real community need and has positive mental health outcomes.

“On the weekend we saw mums and daughters connecting and understanding each other on a deeper level.

“This camp breaks down barriers, strengthens families and bridges cultural divides. This is something everyone can get behind,” he said.


YMCA Open Doors

YMCA Victoria is a not-for-profit community organisation that has been improving the health and happiness of the Victorian community for more than 160 years. YMCA Open Doors is an initiative that provides full or subsidised access to YMCA programs and services to people in need.


Images taken by Sara Mohamed