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Profile: Surinder Tandon, President, Christchurch Multicultural Council

Profile: Surinder Tandon, President, Christchurch Multicultural Council

(picture caption: Team Christchurch Multicultural Council (CMC))

Multicultural Times is a newspaper for the community, by the community, and geared towards the community. That's why we have developed a support matrix around the newspaper, where we are partnering with organisations and individuals, who are the guiding light - the beacon of multiculturalism across New Zealand. These are what we call, Multicultural Times Navigators. And we are glad to announce that Christchurch Multicultural Council (CMC), led by Surinder Tandon, is our first such Navigator. We welcome them, and seek their guidance as we embark on the journey towards an inclusive, diverse, and multicultural Aotearoa. 
Interested in being part of the changing media landscape of New Zealand?
For details on how we can join hands, please email at eric@multiculturaltimes.news  

When did you first move to New Zealand? How has been your journey so far?

Tandon: I migrated to New Zealand from Delhi, India in 1988, soon after completing PhD in Textile Engineering from Leeds University, England. I am now a New Zealand citizen. Despite being in full time employment as a professional Textile Scientist, I have been actively involved in the voluntary service work for the well-being of Indian, multi-ethnic and wider communities in Christchurch and neighbouring Selwyn and Waimakariri Districts. I have served the communities in several roles within the Indian community, multicultural and interfaith councils, and Rotary International, and have the “Service above Self” attitude. 
 
I am now working as an international Textile Consultant (Research, Innovation & Commercialisation) after serving as Senior Scientist in Textile Science & Technology Group at AgResearch Ltd, Lincoln, where I had worked for 27 years. (AgResearch acquired WRONZ - Wool Research Organisation of New Zealand in 2007). 

I have enjoyed the three decades of my NZ life professionally, socially, culturally and as my own family – wife and NZ-born daughter (27) and son (25). I am pleased that my professional and community services have been valued and recognised by being awarded the Queens’s Birthday honour, Member of NZ Order of Merit and the Paul Harris Fellow from Rotary International, in addition to a number of other awards.

When did you first got involved in Multicultural NZ/ Christchurch Multicultural Council (CMC), and in what capacity? Please share your CMC journey so far.

Tandon: After being elected Secretary of Indian Social and Cultural Club (ISCC) when it was established in 1998, and serving for three consecutive years in this position, I proposed and was appointed to represent ISCC and the Indian community on the Christchurch Multicultural (nee Ethnic) Council in order to promote the Indian culture to the wider community, in addition to supporting the new migrants for their settlement and integration within the wider community. 

In the same year 2000, I was elected Vice President of the CMC. I carried on serving in this role until 2009 when I was elected to be the President, the role which I still play passionately. I learnt about, and worked on, the needs, challenges and aspirations of new and settled migrants of diverse ethnic communities. I have seen a huge increase in the ethnic diversity, ethnic groups celebrate their cultures and organise their social activities both as individual groups and jointly as multicultural groups.  

As the current president of CMC, please highlight few current initiatives that the organisation has undertaken.

Tandon: CMC is a voluntary organisation and has over forty-five members representing different ethnic community and service groups, working very passionately for the Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) communities. CMC has been making significant contributions to the post-earthquake recovery and redevelopment in Christchurch and its surrounding areas, through our representation on, for example, the CERA Community Development Forum, Regenerate Christchurch Cathedral Square and Surrounds Reference Group, Civil Defence Emergency Management Advisory Group, and the Christchurch Multicultural Strategy Development Committee. 

We have been working pro-actively with the Christchurch City Council on the implementation of the multicultural strategy. In order to serve the CALD communities better and more efficiently, we have been establishing strong relationship for partnership and collaboration with several local bodies (Christchurch City Council and Selwyn and Waimakariri District Councils) and central government departments, NGOs working for the ethnic sector and the Lincoln Rotary Club. Activities range from multicultural and sports events, capacity building and resource development, input into new policies and services, advocacy role for migrants’ smooth and rapid settlement and integration etc.

In your past three decades of working with communities, can you highlight - what has improved, what hasn't, and what needs to?

Tandon: New Zealanders now accept and recognise NZ as a multicultural society where people of diverse cultures and faiths are respected, and are able to celebrate their cultures with one and all. Understanding of different cultures in terms of cultural values and sensitivities is there but needs to improve through greater social inclusion and structured cultural competency education and training particularly for workplaces. 

Although organisations such as NZ Human Rights Commission, Office of Ethnic Communities, NZ Immigration Service, Ministry of Social Development, NZ Police, local governments, several NGOs, our umbrella organisation – NZ Federation of Multicultural Councils (Multicultural NZ), CMC and other migrant network groups have been making a very useful contribution to the promotion of harmony among various cultures, to the celebration of cultures, to the settlement and wellbeing of the members of the CALD communities; there is a need for more coordination and support amongst them to be able to achieve more and in time. 

We have all seen that over the last ten years, the social media (e.g. Facebook, and several chat groups) have been very helpful to newcomers and migrants to settle, network and integrate better and faster. There is a need for a multicultural centre for newcomers and settled migrants for them to obtain support, education and training on a range of matters from a single central place.

What are the current issues multicultural communities face in New Zealand? What do you propose various stakeholders (in multicultural space) should do to address these issues?

Tandon: As NZ is now a very multicultural society, we would like to see greater ethnic representation on groups, boards, trusts, state-controlled public boards, local and central governments by electing or appointing qualified and talented ethnic representatives. As pointed out already, there is a continuous need for greater inter-culture awareness through cultural competency education and training. Leadership opportunities need to be available to able migrants at workplaces and other groups requiring active participation in the decision-making process.

In order for NZ to build a strong and vibrant multicultural society in which everyone is able to contribute socially, culturally, economically and environmentally, we propose that every city and district council in NZ, develop, deploy and implement their respective multicultural strategies with the support of Tangata Whenua, ethnic leaders, and key ethnic sector NGOs, like achieved by Christchurch and Selwyn. 

CMC also wish the pilot Welcoming Communities programme driven by the Immigration NZ is adopted by all the city and district councils in NZ. Migrants are interested in learning and experiencing Te Reo Māori, Māori culture and protocols, and the NZ lifestyle and culture - the Kiwiana. Structured programmes like Noho Marae started by MNZ need to be developed and funded to enable the migrants integrate in NZ fully. 

Other areas where more coordinated efforts are needed are domestic violence and mental health. Early interception through counselling and education is needed before these get worse. We have already been promoting the White Ribbon campaign for the prevention of violence against women. The task of identifying and appointing more White Ribbon Ambassadors from ethnic communities has begun in order to serve them better as the incidence of domestic violence is on the rise in several ethnic communities.

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