It was more than 60 years ago that I arrived in Australia as a three and a half year old with my parents. My family were escaping from the shortage of jobs and accommodation and were looking for new opportunities. They said goodbye to a cramped attic but also to family – many of whom we would never see again.
It is now 2016 and I am meeting a new set of migrants through a course that I am doing in ESL teaching. The nationalities may be different but many of the stories are the same. War, a lack of work and a desire for a future are pushing people to explore new opportunities.
One man, we will call him Ahmed, had to wait for many years until his wife and children could join him. His excitement was uncontainable when they arrived. His eyes glistening with tears of joy and his undimmable smile said it all and more. There is a lady who never had an opportunity for schooling in her own country who is now, as a middle aged woman, exploring education for the first time. The going is tough but she is strong.
For the teacher the going is also tough too. The increments in learning are not big steps but usually small victories. There are the ‘aha’ moments. “Ah! That is what ‘opposite’ means!” There are the struggles with English words that have multiple meanings. When given instructions “to go past,” verb tenses (yesterday) and assessments (passed) came to mind before the idea of moving from one place to another past the one in the middle.
Language is a means by which we can understand and love our neighbour. What a wonderful gift this is which we can give those fleeing danger and come here and must grapple with a new culture.