Manaaki Centre enriches students’ lives

Issue: Volume 99, Number 18

Posted: 5 November 2020
Reference #: 1HADqe

Swimming lessons, farm visits and a programme that sees Kiwi students mentoring former refugees are all helping students from countries such as Afghanistan, Somalia and Congo to thrive at Hamilton Boys’ High School (HBHS).

A support programme for former refugees at the 2,200-student secondary school began about 10 years ago with a homework centre. However, programme coordinator Naaz Shah says it has become so much more, with the Multicultural Manaaki Centre now offering a holistic wrap-around programme for the school’s former refugee students.

“When they first came to the Homework Centre, they were withdrawn, scared, they couldn’t understand the language, they were looking for familiar faces within the school community. Our idea was to give them a place where they know that we care for them. Even if they didn’t know the language, we would make an effort to make them comfortable and find people who were from similar backgrounds to support them,” she explains.

Teacher Steve Horne is also involved with the programme and says the objective is to give former refugee students a sense of pride, belonging and community.

“Each student is seen as a unique individual, with huge potential to develop their potential and make a difference in our community and New Zealand,” he says.

Commitment and friendship

A game-changer for the programme was involving Kiwi students to help with study and swimming lessons. An annual football match between a HBHS team and a team of former refugees has also become a highlight on the school calendar.

A mentoring programme that began four years ago, with senior top academic students rostered to help with the twice-weekly homework sessions, is beneficial to everybody involved.

“They also support them on a psychological level, which means things like developing a friendship, sharing jokes, reading a book together. If a boy has any other difficulties, such as a form he needs to fill in, they will help complete the process,” says Naaz.

“We are now in a situation where we have five to 10 academic mentors on any one day. So for every two to three students, we have one mentor and it becomes really personalised. That programme has genuinely worked and I am very pleased to say that I don’t have to remind the academic mentors. They are given the roster and they turn up and if they don’t, they send someone else to replace them,” she says.

Literacy and empathy

This year, some of the school’s junior academic students have become involved in a separate literacy programme.

“Our junior leaders are mentors but they are the same age so it’s a little bit more comfortable communicating with them. It’s brilliant. The junior mentors run the programme under supervision and are learning a lot of skills, such as how to teach and how to have empathy for kids who are not as fortunate as them,” explains Naaz.

“There are some beautiful friendships, like some of the boys will bring books from home that their younger brothers and sisters read to share with these kids. You will see a kid from Congo and one of our Pākehā boys sitting and having a beautiful conversation.

“Sometimes we don’t even need language – they laugh, they share jokes, they draw and you can see the sparkle in the eyes of our former refugees because they feel involved in the programme, rather than feeling like they are an outsider in a strange environment,” she says.

Swimming a life skill

Naaz, a former international hockey player, Indian team captain and Olympian, migrated to New Zealand in 2004. Even though she speaks English and is educated, she still felt she had come to a different culture. Like most of her charges, Naaz didn’t learn to swim until she came to Aotearoa and she realised that swimming is an important part of life here.

“Swimming is a life skill. Some of these children have never seen running water in their lives and there’s water everywhere here. How can they live here and not enjoy the beautiful sea and the rivers if they are scared of the water?” she asks.

Every Tuesday in terms 1 and 4 former refugee students attend swimming lessons with two to three teachers and their fellow students to help.

“I have about 10 or 15 young kids who jump in and actually stand in the pool and teach the former refugee kids how to breathe in the water. This was one programme we decided we were going to do at any cost and we were lucky that we had money from the HBHS Foundation to help us buy all the gear like pool noodles and goggles.

“Last year the former refugees learned to swim over two terms. This year they participated at our school swimming competition. Maybe they weren’t fabulous, but they could get from one side of the pool to the other and for that we felt we had succeeded – we had broken that fear of water. That adds to their confidence as well.

“Participating in the swimming sports was another way of getting the students into the community: not having to sit for two hours in the sun while everybody is really enjoying themselves in the water on a hot day.”

Football and festivities

Former refugee students were walking on air after this year’s ‘Brotherhood’ football game – and it wasn’t just because they won on a penalty shootout, says Naaz.

“To celebrate World Refugee Day on 20 June, we had a football match between a team from HBHS versus a refugee team. About 500 HBHS boys went to watch the game and the Pacific boys brought out their drums. You should have seen the former refugees – they were walking about six inches off the ground!

“This looked like a high-powered football game. There were supporters cheering for them; the students not playing were dressed up in national costumes, there was music playing, the drums going. It was like a big festival happening and then we finished it off with a trophy and prizes and a massive spread of food.”

The match, which is now an annual fixture on the school calendar, was set up by the school’s academic mentors and prefects. The Rotary Club of Hamilton East, which also helps out with the swimming programme, was also involved.

Schoolwide support

It’s not just students who support the Manaaki programme at Hamilton Boys’ High School.

“I think the teachers and senior management led by our headmaster, Susan Hassall, have been amazing in the support and the free hand they have given me to actually run the programme.

“Susan has been amazing – she says, ‘Look, if you think this is going to benefit, let’s talk about it and let’s do it’. The deputy principal Nick Power comes to the Manaaki Centre on a regular basis, chats with the boys, sits with them and finds out what their difficulties are and how they are progressing,” says Naaz.

In addition, teachers from the school volunteer to help with homework and swimming lessons.

“We have a bilingual [Arabic] teacher in the school who goes to various classes. I can speak Hindi/Urdu and can take care of the boys coming from Pakistan and Afghanistan. Our Spanish teachers and senior Spanish students come in and help with the kids from Colombia. South African teachers will come and help with the kids who speak Swahili.”

The Manaaki Centre has a close relationship with the school’s ESOL department. Careers advisor Lynnette Ross and her team are instrumental in helping the students find pathways through Gateway courses, visits to Wintec and other opportunities.

Growing empathy and understanding

This year, before World Refugee Day, the name of the homework centre was changed to ‘Multicultural Manaaki Centre’ to remove some stigma. Naaz says the boys now walk with a little bit more spring in their step and local students show a different kind of respect.

“For the Kiwi kids, it’s a huge experience because they have never seen anything like this before. These kids with their little English are sharing their stories through pictures, writing and speaking as much as they can in English.

“It’s something that our kids take for granted, but for these kids going to a good school – or any school – is a big thing. One boy said to me, ‘At last I can go to school and come home knowing that I won’t die on the way. Because if I went in Afghanistan, I don’t know if there is a bomb planted on the side of the road or whether I would be shot’. He said, ‘Miss, I feel so safe here’,” she says.

Milestones and achievements

Naaz and Steve feel huge enthusiasm and pride for the students who take part in the programme, and say they are examples for local students that if you work hard you can achieve anything.

“We have high expectations of the students’ behaviour and application to their studies. We enjoy their company and often co-construct their learning with them,” says Steve.

Naaz reflects that the former refugee students have come a long way in their new lives and culture.

“There’s an amazing difference in some of the students. One of them is representing New Zealand in martial arts, some have played sports at a high national level for the school – they have really embraced what we have offered.

“Academically, we can see a huge change in how they are behaving in the classroom because they feel confident and supported and they know there is somebody they can go to if they have a problem.”

She says all of these achievements are milestones for students who may initially have lacked trust in people.

“At the end of the day, I want them to feel that this is home, but we haven’t forgotten who they are. I don’t want them to become only Kiwi, but they must learn to adjust to the community they are living in,” says Naaz.

“These students add value to our school. Their stories are profound and cause us to reflect on our own life experiences and to be grateful for what we have,” adds Steve.

Student kōrero

Students involved in Hamilton Boys’ High School’s support programme share their experiences.

Mohid, senior academic mentor (17)

How do you help at the Manaaki Centre? What do you like?

Firstly, I have to be a good role model for the students who come to the centre to learn and gain a sense of belonging. I help students from various backgrounds to improve their spelling. I have also helped students express their written thanks to the adults that took us on a field trip to a local farm.

I like the feeling of community and helping to build that community. I love to help students integrate into New Zealand culture and society.

What have you learned about the lives and experiences of students from other parts of the world?

I’m not a former refugee but I came to New Zealand in 2018.
I am learning that the things that you have grown to expect in New Zealand aren’t always present in other countries. I am gaining a sense of purpose in helping others to integrate into New Zealand society.

Juvenal (14), Congo (DRC)

What do you like most about the Manaaki Centre programme?

We meet many boys from different cultures and I meet new friends. I like to be helped.

I want to come to learn new things and to be a part of the Manaaki Centre. I feel happy because I am meeting many people at the centre.

Shoab (16), Pakistan

What do you like most about the Manaaki Centre programme?

We are all from different countries and at the centre the teachers and mentors teach us about how to improve our English. The teachers also encourage us to be involved in sports. They are very friendly and they don’t make fun of our English. My English has improved and my marks have improved too.

Zack (13), junior mentor and Ahmad (14), Afghanistan

What do you like most about the Manaaki Centre programme?

Zack: I like seeing the boys’ English improve over time. I like to make a difference.

Ahmad: I see my friends and I can learn something more. I know my mentor Zack. He is respectful of me and my country. To study English and for help with my homework, to know more about New Zealand and to make friends with other boys.

What have you learned about the lives and experiences of students from other parts of the world?

Zack: I think we take a lot of things for granted and we don’t take enough time to think how hard it could be in other countries.

Mutual friendship

Every Wednesday after school while all the other kids head home, the Manaaki Centre, the helpers and the teachers sit down and are ready to work. The helpers go to each of the students making sure everyone is okay.

I have formed a strong connection with one individual named Ahmad Noori, who I sit with almost every week. I help him with reading, maths, social studies and anything else he has for homework.

I take great pride and satisfaction in my relationship, time and effort with Ahmad as I can see obvious improvements to his English and reading skills – when I first met Ahmad, he didn’t know a single word of English. The way Ahmad and I work partnered together has enabled him to progress further than if we had worked in a group setting.

I’m certain Ahmad appreciates my help and we adore each other’s company. I really enjoy working with him and will hopefully continue doing so for the rest of our time at HBHS.

Written by Zack, junior mentor.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 11:03 am, 5 November 2020

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