Human ‘books’ share stories that break down barriers

By DAMIEN NGUYEN

For Noor and Asher, being part of the Human Library allows them to share their personal stories as a way build community.

“I believe that engaging in dialogue has always led to breaking barriers and I am always happy to share my story with anybody who’s interested in listening to me,” Noor said.

Noor is one of the Human Library books who will tell their stories as part of Monash University’s Diversity and Inclusion Week, which starts today (details here).

Her story is one of “country-hopping” with Pakistan, the Middle East, Canada and the US listed among her places of residence, before moving to Australia after her marriage.

She was in New York city on 9/11 had to deal with challenges to her identity as a “Muslim woman who wears the hijab”, she said.

Noor has lived in many countries.

“We live in a country, in Australia, where story-telling has been part of the culture for tens of thousands of years,” Noor said.

She was especially passionate about dispelling the myths that surrounded Muslim women, and said she would “always jump on such opportunities” to talk about differences and engage in “cultural education”.

“Just the fact that I’m at uni, I’m pursuing my career, I’m pursuing my higher education, I dress the way that I choose to, I make friends. Just the fact that I’m able to communicate that I am responsible for making the choices that I make, it is in itself a stereotype-breaker,” Noor said.

“Just saying those words and putting it out there in the public sphere, I think people need to hear it and they’re comforted by those facts,” she said.

For Asher, the call to tell a story and broaden a person’s understanding is a familiar one. A former MSA Queer Officer in 2010 and 2013, Asher works for Monash University, focusing on LGBTIQ issues within the Diversity and Inclusion portfolio.

“I’m hoping people will come and hear my story and understand that there is a need for stories to be shared and for voices to be heard,” Asher said.

Asher wants people to hear his story.

Asher said he hoped his story would inspire others to become a part of a community that was actively involved and engaged in making a difference.

“One of the challenges for marginalised groups of members of marginalised groups is often being heard or having our voices spoken. And I found that when people want to understand how other people’s lives have gone, one of the best ways is through story-telling and through hearing other’s experiences.”

Asher said Monash was a leader in promoting LGBTIQ issues and rights, with active participation in the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, wielding a pride flag and leading the agenda for non-gendered toilets.

“Monash University supports, understand and is proud of its queer community, LGBTIQ staff and students,” Asher said.

For him, The Human Library is an opportunity to have more “conversations around how the nuances of identity really interplay with people’s lives”, hence moving the issue beyond the plateau of acceptance and into more in-depth exploration of self.

“I hope that people will gain a new insight from the story that I have to share and the work that I’ve been a part of, here at Monash, so that they can understand and realise that often doing work for good causes can take time, and you can’t change things necessarily overnight, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying to keep progressing change,” Asher said.  

If you are interested in hearing Noor and Asher’s stories, visit The Human Library today at Monash University Clayton, 5.30pm in the Banquet Room.