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Friday, 19 April 2019 12:21 am

Learning English can bring back tearful memories for some migrants

LEARNING ESOL: Teacher Kim Paterson with (from left) Ukyawmaung, Shah Chaman and Akberet.

WHEN Kim Paterson discussed breakfast with her English class, she wasn’t expecting tears.

She had begun a lesson by chatting with the students about what they ate for breakfast – when a class member from Cambodia started to cry.

“It brought back all these memories of when she had to make do with just half-a-cup of rice,” says Kim, a teacher of English for speakers of other languages (ESOL).

This was at a time when the Khmer Rouge was rationing rice in Cambodia, and the amount people received was dependant on their social group.

The current class of 15, based at Multicultural Learning and Support Services (MCLaSS) in Newtown, is a diverse group, with students from Somalia, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Iraq, China and Eritrea.

The fact many are refugees brings its own challenges, says Kim.

“Survivor guilt is a big thing,” she says.

“They come, having escape horrendous situations back home, and in some cases, relatives and friends are left behind. People bring these feelings to the classroom.”

New Zealand accepts up to 750 refugees each year, as part of an agreement with the United Nations Refugee Agency, which authenticates their status.

On arrival, they complete a six-week orientation programme at the Mangere Refugee Centre before being resettled in various parts of the country.

Shah Chaman is from Afghanistan and arrived at the Centre with his family in March 2009, before being resettled in Newtown.

He says he wants a job and hopes that learning English will lead to employment, having owned a grocery store and been a farmer in Afghanistan.

Kim says leaving behind work and the status of being the breadwinner is something that a lot of refugees, she has taught, struggle with.

“Many find themselves relying on their teenage children and this is really hard for them.

“Their relatives see them leave for this ‘pot of gold’ and many are faced with having to send money home whilst living off a benefit.”

Refugees to New Zealand enjoy the same rights as any other permanent resident in the areas of education, health, employment, and social welfare, and after five years, may apply for citizenship.

Ukyawmaung, a fisherman from Myanmar, was resettled in Newtown with his wife and two school-aged children in June 2009.

He, like Shah Chaman and Akberet, a refugee from Eritrea, says trying to make do on a benefit is hard.

“The prices keep on rising, but the [benefit] has stayed the same,” says Ukyawmaung, who is also hopeful that mastering English will see him find work.

For Kim, the idea of teaching ESOL came after moving to the Middle East with her husband and young children in the 90s.

There, people would notice her speaking English and ask to be taught.

“Even someone who had phoned the wrong number,” she says.

She also understands from living in the Middle East what a culture shock many of her students are facing.

“In Afghani culture, for example, having both men and women in the same classroom is unusual.

“Culturally, this is the kind of thing they’re getting use to, aside from just learning English.”

Subsistence living – where families focus on living off what they can grow and make from the land – is also what many of these refugees are familiar with, says Kim.

SILENT READ: Newtown Library on Wednesdays.

“But you imagine trying to do that, while living in a block of flats in Newtown.”

The class was being hosted by Newtown Library when NewsWire called in on a Wednesday morning.

Wellington City Libraries multicultural community customer specialist Ada Nally says she wants the students to be entirely comfortable using the library.

Ms Nally arrived from Holland 25 years ago and says having children helped her integrate into the community through playgroups and Plunket.

“Having a reason to get out of the house and interact is so important,” she says.

“These students get familiar with the library in class, and then they are comfortable to visit at other times, and to bring their family and friends along.”

Ms Nally also consults with MCLaSS to deliver the types of materials their ESOL students are after, like newspapers and magazines they had access to before moving to New Zealand.

She says the library is part of a diverse community and she works hard to ensure its collections reflect this.

Porirua, the Hutt Valley and Wellington became home to 194 (or 25.5%) of the 752 refugees accepted by New Zealand from July 2007 to July 2008.

Also during this period, 262 (or 35%) were resettled in Auckland and 95 went to Christchurch.

Refugee Services New Zealand also has offices in Hamilton, Palmerston North and Nelson – cities where the remaining 201 refugees were resettled.

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  1. Refugees are not migrants. These two words have completely different meaning’s. You’re title may be wrong!

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