Networking and Learning: The Refugee Experience

Networking and Learning: The Refugee Experience
Asterie Nsengiyumva (courtesy of AJM Photography)

The August MSN Networking and Learning presentation featured Asterie Nsengiyumva describing her experiences as a refugee and Renata Ninevski, the Refugee Support Leader for the Hunter Region, DET and an experienced leader of refugee education and community engagement.

Born in Burundi, when 3 months old Asterie and her family fled to Tanzania to escape the 1993 civil war.And it was here that with her parents, she and her eight (later to be ten) siblings grew up.At first their home in the refugee camp was a tiny grass and mud house.By 1995 her father had hand-built (with no tools) a small brick house where they lived until 2000 when they builta larger three-bedroom house – one bedroom of which was for goats and rabbits.Life was hard: getting up at 5am; travelling 15 to 20 minutes each way to collect water (which for drinking had to be boiled); attending school with almost no supplies (Asterie was discriminated against because she could only afford a pencil and not a pen); and growing their own food both for eating and trade (and those crops all had to be watered by hand).The family all worked hard together to survive.

Asterie’s sister came to Australia in 2005 and later the rest of the family followed.And while much of life was easier, there was the challenge of a new culture, a new language and finding how to fit in.School was especially challenging especially as sometimes children and parents would find themselves in the same class.Astere started in Year 8 – with no English and no computer skills – and for most of the time she had no idea what was going on.She later moved to other schools and two different TAFEs eventually receiving a certificate in community work and aged care.Asterie has now completed a Bachelor of Social Science at the University of Newcastle graduating just this year.

In 2016 there were 7500 students from a refugee background in NSW public schools.That number is now 11,000 and there is a similar number in the Catholic school system.In Newcastle there are 300 students with a refugee background and most of them are in Callaghan College schools.

In her role as a refugee support leader, Renata is guided by the Refugee Leadership Strategy (2017-19) which aims to provide greater system support for NSW public schools with significant numbers of refugee students.

The role of refugee support leaders is to:

  • collaborate with school leaders to use data to inform planning and implementation of whole school strategies to support refugee students
  • work with schools to support refugee students through improved transition processes
  • work with learning and support teams to implement personalised approaches for refugee students
  • collaborate with school leaders and staff to provide opportunities and encourage refugee families and community members to participate in the life of the school
  • coordinate and deliver professional learning for school staff, including school leadership teams
  • promote collaboration between schools and other organisations supporting refugee students and families.