5 May 2017
Refugee experience helps new arrivals – Volunteer gives back to adopted home city by helping migrants overcome language barrier
Picture: Jocelyn Nickels
As published in the Border Watch.
Written by Jocelyn Nickels. 

Arriving in Mount Gambier 10 years ago with one of the first refugee families under a regional settlement scheme, Lizar Lee is now doing her part to help new arrivals. Born and raised in a Thailand camp, Ms Lee adjusted to life in Australia with the help of the Limestone Coast Migrant Resource Centre.

Now on the way to forging a career in nursing, Ms Lee also spends time volunteering with the centre each week. Since the start of the year she has spent around three hours a week at Mount Gambier High School, volunteering as a bilingual worker doing case work for refugee students in the flexible learning options program.

“The language barrier is a big problem for new arrivals – it takes time for them to understand the teachers and vice versa,” she said.

“They do not know how to tell teachers what they want to do and what subjects they want to focus on – sometimes they need an interpreter to help them get the right message across.”

Migrant Resource Centre Mount Gambier manager Anelia Blackie said this was a great opportunity for Lizar to give back to the refugee community.

“Lizar was one of the first child refugees in Mount Gambier and can now help other young people and families who are arriving into the city,” she said.

Shifting her focus to youth over the last few months, Ms Blackie said it was important for the centre to build partnerships with schools in the region.

“Mount Gambier is such a connected community and collaboration is extremely important,” she said.

“A lot of the Karen youth come to Australia in their late teenage years and it is difficult for them to learn English – they do not know how to get into the career they want.”

Working with North Primary School Intensive English Language Program leader Inna Tucker, Ms Blackie said they were recently approached by a teenage boy who was not engaging in high school.

“He was seen as a problem student because he was disengaged at school, but really he is a very sweet boy who was having trouble understanding his teachers,” she said.

“The school didn’t have an interpreter and there was a communication problem.

“He told us he wanted to be a chef, but just didn’t know how to get there – he knew of the hospitality program, but didn’t know he was allowed to do it.”

Through communication with the school, the boy is now undertaking the hospitality course at school, studying at TAFE, working in a local cafe and learning English at school.

“This all happened because of the partnership with Inna and the school,” Ms Blackie said.

“Just like Lizar, in another 10 years time the refugee community will be able to help further new arrivals.”


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