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17 Jul 2017


Volunteers teach English to asylum seekers and refugees

Read Write and Spell is a not-for-profit organisation that provides free literacy, numeracy and basic computer skills services to adults, with a primary focus on refugees and people seeking asylum.

Operating from a centre in Ultimo, qualified adult literacy teachers gather five days a week to hold classes with students who either cannot afford English literacy classes, are not eligible for classes due to their visa status or have very low levels of English.

One regular attendee is Nasrin*, a young mother who has been supported by SSI’s Status Resolution Support Services program since she left her native country of Iran to seek asylum in Australia.

“I needed help to help me with my kids and their homework. When I go outside, I need to talk and make relationships with other people. To do that, I need to speak English. Now I can help my son do homework and I can talk to his teacher as well. Before, I couldn’t do that. I used to hide from them. Now I can talk and feel comfortable,” she said.

“My dream is to go to university. In my country, I couldn’t go to university but I’d like to go to TAFE and then university.”

With the help of volunteer teachers, Nasrin is now hoping to enrol in a TAFE course that will enable her to improve her English enough to gain acceptance into a nursing qualification.

Like Nasrin, Yasmin* is also seeking asylum in Australia and comes along to class each week with her five-month-old baby, with the goal of improving her English enough to find work.

“I live in Australia. All the people here speak English. I don’t like it when they speak to me and I don’t understand,” she said. “I’ve been to other English classes that taught me how to say things like, How are you?’. Coming here has helped me to learn so much more about things like grammar.”

Headteacher Tess Shannon said class sizes were small to accommodate students with very low-level English literacy or no English at all.

“We do a lot of one-on-one teaching for those students who require special attention. These students eventually join the larger groups when they are competent and confident enough to do so,” she said.

“We also provide extra English language support to people seeking asylum who are studying for the HSC or completing TAFE certificates.”

* Names have been changed.

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