Each year, Harmony Week (March 21-27) is marked by a week-long celebration of Australia’s cultural diversity. It’s about inclusiveness, respect, safety, and a sense of belonging for everyone.

At Centacare, our work is enriched by the origins, stories, colour and traditions of many different cultures which together make us stronger.

Throughout Harmony Week, we will be sharing some of the staff stories published in our internal newsletter, Culture Hub, an initiative of the Cultural Competence Committee to celebrate our collective identity.

First up, let’s meet Milijana Stojadinovic.

Enriched by diversity

Time has taught Milijana Stojadinovic to embrace her Serbian heritage.

Growing up, the first generation Australian pushed her ethnicity away after experiencing covert racism which led her to question her identity.

In her new role managing headspace Port Adelaide, Milijana hopes to use her experiences of “othering” to help young people who are feeling misunderstood as they grapple with their own cultural fabric.

“Having a name like Milijana Stojadinovic, my cultural background wasn’t something I could ever run away from, but I tried very hard to,” she said.

“I shortened my name to Mill and didn’t speak my language. I really pushed my culture away; it was something I was quite ashamed of.”

It wasnt until her early 20s that Milijana embraced her Serbian roots while studying social work and writing a thesis on migrants’ experiences of living in Australia.

“Doing my thesis helped me understand a little bit more why I felt the way I did as a young kid,” she said.

“It wasn’t a rejection of culture as such, it was a rejection of being treated like the `other’.

“I don’t feel like that anymore. I feel like I belong and that I’ve found my place.

“I do see myself as Australian, deeply, but I’m also an ethnic kid with strong ties back to my country of origin, language and cultural traditions.

“That’s my point of difference in the work I do with young people who are of different ethnicity but who have that affinity with me.

“I find that my relationships are really enriched by that commonality, and that point of difference, because they are on a similar journey realising where they fit too.”

A mental health social worker and mother-of-one, Milijana is acutely aware of the ways that cultural diversity influences conversations about mental health, how it is perceived and understood, and the impact of stress associated with migration and the readjustment into new cultures.

“I think it’s important for everyone to ask themselves questions and think about where there might be bias internally and where that bias comes from,” she said.

“Be ready to challenge it, and ask others questions too, but from a point of curiosity, not nosiness.

“Get conversations started.”