By Alana Mitchelson
NEWLY arrived refugees and migrants in Pakenham struggling with the language will soon be able to seek support at a free conversational English session.
The weekly class will step participants through basic English phrases aimed at helping people from different cultures settle in to everyday activities such as shopping, using public transport, making appointments and social conversation.
Class co-ordinator Sara Heras has experienced firsthand the challenges of culture shock and adjusting to a new community.
Ms Heras and her family escaped conflict in Afghanistan and moved to Australia in 2009.
She speaks five languages, held a senior role at the United Nations for 10 years and worked as a teacher for more than three decades.
But despite Ms Heras’ qualifications, her experience was not recognised in Australia. Her husband had been a surgeon in Afghanistan but was unable to operate in Melbourne.
“I was very sad to realised that my qualifications were not recognised here. I lost my family, my job… everything,” she said.
“There was a lot of grief, and it’s taken courage for me and my kids to re-do courses in Australia to make a meaningful life for our family.”
CatholicCare Gippsland family and relationships program manager Mark Tanti said the session would help participants build confidence, make new friends and present the opportunity improve their ear for the Australian accent.
“About 9 per cent of people in Pakenham are from a first-generation multicultural background, the most common nationalities in Cardinia shire being Afghan, Sri Lankan, Filipino and Sudanese,” Mr Tanti said.
“There is a strong need for this kind of an English service in this community because without these kind of programs people can become isolated.
“It’s been an eye-opener to hear some of the struggles people face and their stories.”
The sessions are run by volunteers, many of them retired school teachers.
The free session will run at 10am every Thursday, beginning Term 4, at CatholicCare, 1 Rogers Street, Pakenham.
CatholicCare Gippsland is seeking more volunteers to run the sessions.
Those interested can phone 1800 522 076.