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28 Oct 2015


Volunteer-led English classes popular with people seeking asylum

Some of the happy English class participants.

The classes are part of a program introduced last year as a pilot after SSI identified that most individuals from the SRSS program, which provides assistance to people seeking asylum, still had  difficulties expressing themselves in English after the six-week language course they received on arrival. A group of dedicated SSI staff saw the need to improve this situation, and helped to develop the ongoing English classes, which are open to people of all abilities.

Cathy Gao, an SSI Case Manager and member of the working group that organised the classes, said the English lessons were valuable in many ways.

“This is a very necessary program that is in addition to a Navitas English course. Our clients don’t feel very comfortable learning English with other people in large classrooms; it’s hard for them to fit in. These classes are a good opportunity to meet people from a similar background,” Ms Gao said. “Now that clients have work rights, this gives them an opportunity to meet new people, learn new skills, socialise and empower them in their work. Grammar comes with practice, but this gives them base language skills.”

SSI runs this program in partnership with Mission Australia’s AMEP Enhancement Program, which — with funding from the Department of Education and Training — offers a two-day training session for volunteers recruited to work as teachers. The AMEP Enhancement Program also offers ongoing workshops and curriculum advice for trained volunteers.

“Volunteering with this group of people is very helpful and very satisfying. Being able to share my skills with others is very rewarding,” said Tahmeena, one of the volunteer teachers. “The greatest achievement is helping other people in their daily lives.”

One of Tahmeena’s students, Zeinab, who arrived in Australia in 2013 seeking asylum from Iran, agrees with her.

“Tahmeena is a good teacher because English was hard to learn at first. It has got much easier and I am very thankful for her help,” she said.

Research carried out by the working group shows that the students who continued to attend found that the classes had become an important part of their life and were helping them to settle into their new environment. The favourite topic was found to be ‘Australian History’ and ‘parts of the body’; the least favourite topic was ‘going to the doctor’.

The program operates over four 10-week terms coinciding with school holidays. There is an average of 10 to 15 students in each class, which are open to all levels of English and focus on conversation skills directed at overcoming everyday life situations. Participants also receive support to create and amend resumes to help them get a job. 

Volunteer with SSI

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