Education is key for refugees: Local students give back

Education is precious: Karen students in school in a refugee camp near the border between Thailand and Myanmar. 

By COREY BLACKWELL

Maroondah High School students are making a difference in the local community by tutoring refugee children.

A recent study by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees found 51 per cent of the world’s refugee population was made up of children and of this, only 50 per cent had access to primary education.  

Migrant and refugee support service AMES spokesman Laurie Nowell said building education pathways for refugees was critical. 

“We connect them with groups in their own communities that can help them,” Mr Nowell said.

Croydon Hills Baptist Church offers many resources for Karen refugees largely from Myanmar, including a homework program for young school children.

The program is a collaboration between the church and Luther College, with one-on-one tutoring supplied to the Karen children by the same students every session.  

Co-ordinator Kathryn Bell said the program began because the Karen people weren’t always able to help their children with the homework.

David Paech during the Karen Homework Club at Croydon Hills Baptist Church. Picture: Corey Blackwell

“A lot of the parents haven’t had opportunities to be educated, so they value it,” Ms Bell said.  

Ms Bell said it wasn’t just about the homework, but also the relationships formed between the students.

“Just to give that sense of belonging and self-esteem to the Karen students, I don’t think you can overestimate that,” she said.

Luther College service learning co-ordinator David Paech said the program had also helped “expand the world view” of the student tutors.

“The kids start to see the complexities of it all, and that they can make a difference,” Mr Paech said.

“It doesn’t cost a lot to give a helping hand and lots of good things happen in our lives as a result of that.”

Hundreds of thousands of families have fled Myanmar during the violent conflict, making it the third highest source of Australia’s refugees.

A report by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection shows 1951 Myanmar-born refugees were resettled in Australia in 2016, and many of these identify with the Karen ethnic minority.

There are now 52 Karen students involved in the homework club, which runs every Wednesday after school.