SPARK Case Studies
A SPARK VOLUNTEER SHARES HER STORY
At the 2016 SPARK Thank You Event, long-term volunteer Loretto shared her experience from the past two years as a volunteer for the Bright Sparks program in Liverpool. Below is an excerpt from her moving speech about the importance of the work of SPARK to the lives of newly arrived families.
As a retired school principal my aim in volunteering was to do something practical which I hoped would support the development of those who are new to Australia. As a migrant myself I often think how difficult I found coming to Oz – the loss of family was acute; the strange customs and practices; the weather; the humour of the people even the language at times even though I speak English. How much more difficult and painful it must be for these young people and their families who have been persecuted and who have had to flee the threats of totalitarian regimes to try and find somewhere to give them asylum?
While much of the work I have carried out with the refugees has focused on basic skills in communication and Mathematics there are, as with all good teaching, social and community skills which are also built up: collaboration and team work through games; new relationships through working with students from other year groups, confidence through drama and creative play; new skills through preparing food; coordination and lateral thinking through games and music.
Our team of volunteers are lucky in that we have the leadership of our Spark Coordinator, our team leader, two retired primary teachers whose experience and wisdom in teaching and learning with primary students informs and supports us all in that we do, and our teacher supervisor. Each and everyone ensures that all runs smoothly and harmoniously each week for our merry band of volunteers.
In addition we have a translator and other Arabic speakers who both help with students whose English is very poor and who are too anxious to even risk saying anything. A little girl who six months ago would not even hold her head up was playing games with gusto last week and will risk a few sentences now. A room has been set aside where parents gather to chat, have coffee and attend information sessions at the same time as the children and can borrow bi-lingual books to read with their children. Although I don’t have much to do with this I can see that parents are more comfortable with the school and thus with the teachers and executive if they need to make queries or express concerns. Of course there are also the holiday programmes including circus skills, cooking, and bush walks which are very popular and a great initiative.
My presence and your presence each week supporting them ensures that they know they have a secure and accepted place in the multicultural society which characterises the best of Australia. One of the joys of teaching is that a day never passes without learning something new and for myself I have learned something new at every session and I am sure that applies to all who who have participated in the programme. Thank-you to SPARK and to all who are attending this celebration and congratulations on a great year. We look forward to 2017.
Urban Discovery – Bushwalking in North Sydney
On a beautiful summer day SPARK led a truly Aussie experience for a group of newly arrived Families from Syria and Iraq. Danny, a brother of one of the Bright Sparks students and a high school student himself, came along to the excursion.
On the train ride to the excursion he chatted with SPARK manager about the animals he would get to see, referring to the activity sheet that was handed out. He was really interested in lizards and kookaburras. He was also fascinated by the red sap on gum trees. He was very engaged in the bush walking excursion, and he was at the front of the group on the look-out for animals.
The group had spotted a lone kookaburra, some butterflies, a King parrot and lorikeets, and a small lizards. But near the end of the walk, Danny spotted a bush turkey building a nesting mound and then with a yell he pointed to a huge water dragon. At the same time 5 kookaburras sang out from the trees above the group.
After the walk, everyone enjoyed a picnic and the parents went on the Aboriginal Heritage Walk seeing several rock carvings. Most of the other kids went to the playground but Danny continued on the Aboriginal Walk and got a souvenir of a Sydney Red gum to take back home – a piece of bark coloured with red sap. He was thrilled and though he is a huge Barcelona soccer fan, for that day at least, Lionel Messi took a back seat.
SPARK staff members explained the history of the area and this prompted a discussion between the parents and bilingual facilitators about Aboriginal history, when they came over, how old was their civilization and their culture.
A library visit opens a world of learning
One Afghan man thanked the SPARK Program Officer, afterwards saying that for the last 5 months he had wished to visit the library but felt uncertain and too nervous and too shy to do so.
He said in his country only academic and university lecturers use the library and he, himself, had no school education. He said he would now bring his children to the library also and he could not wait to go back again
School is now a positive place for me
In many primary Schools newly-arrived children go straight into the mainstream classroom. This can be a huge challenge for a young child with limited English language skills. Since 2006 SPARK has facilitated the settlement of children and families of refugee backgrounds though a range of holistic educational, social and cultural programs.
When Heba began attending Bright Sparks she was reluctant to work with volunteers and only liked to communicate through her cousin who spoke Arabic and had been in Australia for longer than her. Heba had not long been in Australia and was visibly frustrated and unhappy in the school environment.
This was until Heba was matched with Evan, a committed, patient and creative Volunteer. Evan focussed on helping Heba improve her basic communication skills, encouraging her to express herself through fun games. This was until Heba was matched with Evan, a committed, patient and creative Volunteer. Evan focussed on helping Heba improve her basic communication skills, encouraging her to express herself through fun games.
“Heba did not have much English and tended to rely on her cousin a lot, so her English was not improving. The first few sessions working together were challenging.
We found some games that Heba enjoyed, things like playing shops, and this got her to start communicating with me. Week by week she improved. It has been great seeing her grow in confidence and the ability to express herself in English. Now we can sit down and work on homework together, her progress is really encouraging.”
Evan worked consistently with Heba over three school terms and she gradually became comfortable in, and even found herself enjoying, Bright Spark sessions.
The change in Heba has been remarkable. She now gets excited about attending SPARK and has even taken on the role of translator and mother hen for students new to Australia and SPARK. She helps with translating and getting them settled.
Heba has gained the confidence to approach teachers, other volunteers and students as well as use her great sense of humour to make them laugh. School is now a positive place for Heba.
Abdul arrived in Australia and joined his local public school in the mid-way through the SPARK Circus program. Abdul struggled to say basic words in English and there were no other students in his class or the grade that spoke the same language as him. When Abdul started at Circus he looked confused and was unsettled.
Despite the language barrier, throughout the Circus program and with the encouragement of trainers, volunteers, classmates and teachers – Abdul grew in confidence. What started as a lesson of confusion and restlessness quickly turned into a fun, welcoming atmosphere where Abdul was able to learn circus tricks by watching the trainers. Abdul quickly became a star in his class’s group performance and was very happy and excited throughout all of the sessions, trying all the new Circus Tricks and learning the group routines.
Even though Abdul joined half way through the program, he excelled at balance and tumbling and was the ‘flyer’ or top person in a three tier human pyramid. The Circus trainers encouraged him in this and his classmates were impressed and applauded him.
At the final performance day his mother, who had been in Australia only a few weeks herself, came to the circus performance to watch his performance and participate herself in the Circus tricks workshop. He showed her how to use some of the circus tricks. They were visibly happy and she said ‘Thank You!’ to the staff who approached her.
A volunteer saw him in the library two weeks later and he recognised her and asked her confidently in English “Hello, how are you?”
In the Community Sparks program, new families and volunteers come together to establish networks and friendships within the school community. Bilingual workers assist parents to improve their English; understand the Australian school system; address settlement issues; and learn skills to negotiate living in a new country.
Anushri first came to a Community Sparks session wanting to meet other parents at her child’s school and to practice her English. Meeting every week, the group discussed life in their new home; their hopes and aspirations for a better future for their children.
During this time, Anushri continued to search for work, with little success. Since arriving in Australia, she had completed a Diploma of Community Services and was keen to find a job in which she could give back to the community. SPARK worked with Anushri on resume-writing and job-seeking skills, and then suggested she join SPARK as a volunteer.
After completing her SPARK training, Anushri headed up a Parents Group herself. After some months in the volunteer role she secured employment in a community services organisation. Anushri credits her time with SPARK as the main reason behind her new found confidence that set her on the road to a brighter future.