Towards a sense of belonging

Issue: Volume 96, Number 10

Posted: 12 June 2017
Reference #: 1H9dDo

As World Refugee Day approaches, Education Gazette examines a recent documentary that shares real-life stories, including that of a Wellington student with a refugee background.

Yibeth at school

Yibeth Morales Ayala is a year 12 student at St Catherine’s College in Kilbirnie, Wellington. She loves school and the opportunities opening out in front of her.

“I love it at St Catherine’s – I would never change schools,” she says.

“Since I was little, I have loved school, and I really appreciate being able to attend it here in New Zealand. There are so many things to learn every day. And there is the chance to make good relationships with other students and the teachers.”

Yibeth was only three years old when her family fled Colombia to escape paramilitary organisations threatening their lives.

The family spent 11 years in Ecuador before being accepted to New Zealand under the refugee quota system. Then, after six weeks in the Mangere Resettlement Centre, she settled in the Wellington region with her mother, father and younger sister.

Yibeth attended school in Ecuador and remembers it well – the feeling of being excluded by other students, and that her family couldn’t afford the books she needed to study.

“At my school in Ecuador there was only one class, and you couldn’t really have a warm relationship or share your opinion with the teachers. Good behaviour was important. We sat at our own little desk so we couldn’t talk or distract each other.”

She says that upon starting school in New Zealand, aged 14, the first thing she noticed was the way the desks were arranged into groups. “That surprised me! The desks were grouped together, and not in rows. And the teachers wanted to hear what we thought about things.

“It was hard to get used to, but at the same time it was good to be more open. It made learning more interesting.”

Yibeth, to whom building strong relationships is very important, says she has made some close connections with those in her school community.

And this extends out to extracurricular activities, which currently include football, church, hosting a youth radio show on Wellington Access Radio, and being an active member of the New Zealand National Refugee Youth Council. She’s particularly passionate about the New Zealand Cadet Corps.

“At the moment, I’m really involved with cadets – in the last holidays I was training at Ohakea Air Force Base,” says Yibeth. “Working with the Air Training Corps means a lot of effort and responsibilities for me, but it’s definitely worth the hard work.”

She has also discovered a love for politics, and recently took part in the 2017 Wellington Model United Nations conference, which drew young people together to discuss big issues like governmental representation and media freedom.

“I really like politics and I would love to study international human rights and be a representative of the UN through the Air Force,” she says.

“I feel strongly about having young and honest representatives in our government, so I feel like change could be made by us!”

Her favourite subjects include art and English, and she is currently enjoying the challenge of studying physics, in pursuit of her goal to work as an air force pilot.

A range of good support (pastoral, academic, and sometimes logistical) is offered by her school, to help Yibeth reach her goals. “I find my ESOL class in particular really supportive and it feels like people are looking out for me and making it as easy as they can.”

St Catherine’s College principal Mary Curran agrees.

“St Cath’s is a small Mercy College and we work hard to ensure that our values support the diversity of all our young women,” she says.

In the documentary Together We Make a Nation, Yibeth opens her segment with a stark statement:

“Anywhere I go, I will always be a refugee, because I’m not in my own country. I do feel different; I feel like I don’t belong anywhere.”

This feeling follows her to school, too, as it surely follows students from refugee backgrounds all over the country and the world as they move through their education journey.

“I still do feel different from other kids, and that affects me at school. Sometimes I struggle to understand what’s happening in class, and I feel like I’m at a disadvantage."

“For example, I’m happy in English class, because I love writing and reading and I like subjects that can have many answers, not like maths and science where there is usually just one answer."

“I wonder if the students and teachers think I’m too ‘out there’ or talk too much – and I think about how I am different from them sometimes. My science teacher was talking to me and said I’m different in a special way, and I’m realising that we’re all different in our own special ways!”

Together We Make a Nation

This interactive documentary tells the stories of four former refugee women from different parts of the world who now call New Zealand home.

These stories are woven together with recipes, memories of loss and joy, and data visualisations to create a multimedia piece that shines a light on refugee women in New Zealand.

Funded by NZ On Air, the project was developed by Sandra Clark of Rabid Technologies and Steve La Hood of Story Inc. in partnership with the New Zealand Red Cross.

The interactive format of the documentary allows the viewer to watch a short story while being presented with other multimedia options they may want to interact with.

During each story, there’s other information to watch, read and share, including further details, data, maps and historical video clips. There is also comprehensive information about the refugee resettlement process from start to finish.

Sandra hopes the project will be used freely by teachers and students.

“What we found when we were doing our research was that there was quite a lot of information about refugees coming to New Zealand but it was in a lot of different places. Not only do we present the four interactive docos, but we also have a resources hub and a community page,” she says.

The four women featured, who include Yibeth, are from different generations and ethnic backgrounds. Originally from Poland, Ola was part of New Zealand’s first official refugee
programme in the 1940s. Neary escaped the Khmer Rouge in the, 80s and Dalal arrived in New Zealand with the first emergency intake from Syria two years ago.

“People can connect with women in their age group, and see a real story of their struggles and how they came to New Zealand,” explains Sandra.

“I would love teachers to come to the website and use it as a resource to share with their students real stories of former refugees in our communities."

“There’s also a lot of information – facts and figures and historical data – on the website too, along with more refugee stories, family recipes from the women featured, and information on volunteering and helping in other ways,” she says.

The documentary can be found on the Together We Make a Nation website(external link) 

Refugees in New Zealand

New Zealand accepts around 1,000 people every year as part of its refugee quota programme. After spending six weeks at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre upon arrival, people are resettled in one of six resettlement locations: Auckland, Hamilton, Palmerston North, Wellington, Nelson, and Dunedin. Invercargill will become New Zealand’s seventh resettlement location at the end of 2017.

New Zealand Red Cross is the primary provider of community refugee resettlement programmes and starts working with former refugee families once they leave Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre. Through the programmes, Red Cross offers settlement support to former refugees during the first 12 months of their resettlement journey in New Zealand, and provides employment support which is available to former refugees for several years after arrival.

Students from refugee backgrounds

Some children from a refugee background may have been in camps for most of their lives. They may have no memory of ordinary life and little knowledge about their own country. They may have fallen years behind in education or have never had any formal education.

For some, the trauma of moving to a new country and learning a new language can be greater than previous traumas of war and refugee camps.

Recent refugee groups to settle in New Zealand include Afghan, Bhutanese, Colombian, Congolese, Ethiopian, Iraqi, Myanmarese/Burmese, Somali, Sudanese, and Syrian.

English language learners from a refugee background qualify for ESOL funding in the same way as other English language learners. Refugees receive more intensive funding support for the first two years at school here, followed by three years of standard funding.

There is further funding support available for targeted high needs refugee background students. This provides for a range of additional assistance through the employment of bilingual support workers, refugee homework centres, and NCEA and curriculum subject support as well as specialist guidance for pathway planning and careers.

Senior advisers for refugee and migrant support are based in Ministry of Education regional offices in Christchurch, Wellington, Hamilton and Auckland. The senior advisers liaise between refugee communities, agencies and schools to help with education and resettlement. They also help schools work with additional services to support students with high and complex needs.

The Ministry of Education’s Refugee Handbook for Schools has detailed information to help schools support students from a refugee background – to help them learn and feel part of the school community and New Zealand society and can be downloaded from the Ministry Of Education website(external link) 

The handbook includes sections on:

  • welcoming students
  • enrolment, placement and monitoring
  • planning and delivering effective teaching programmes
  • using bilingual support workers
  • providing pastoral care
  • supporting students at transition points.

World Refugee Day

Hosted by the United Nations, World Refugee Day is observed on 20 June every year, and dedicated to raising awareness of the situation of refugees around the world.
The annual commemoration is marked by a range of events in more than 100 countries.

Visit the United Nations website(external link) for more information.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 7:05 PM, 12 June 2017

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