From Damascus to "lovely Dunedin" | ELPNZ

From Damascus to "lovely Dunedin"

25 January 2017











Wafaa Al Ashram and her 13-year-old son Ahmed, former refugees from Syria, arrived in Dunedin from Lebanon in April 2016. They are part of the first group of 49 Syrian refugees to settle in the city.

Wafaa Al Ashram left her hometown of Damascus in 2014, when she and her son Ahmed crossed the border into Lebanon, leaving behind a son in Syria. One other son had passed away.

“We suffered a lot and we had lots of bad stuff happen to us but when we arrived here we needed to learn and we needed to change what we had and to live a normal life,’’ Wafaa says.

An essential part of that learning includes learning English. Growing up learning Arabic, Wafaa had only been at school up until Year 6, meaning she had left before there was any chance of learning English. However, she had kept on learning Arabic after she left school, and says her main hobby was reading.

Wafaa had always wanted to learn English, and says the chance to learn now through English Language Partners is like a “dream coming true”.

Since arriving in Dunedin, she has been getting used to New Zealand life. She is enjoying her lessons and appreciates all the help she and her classmates receive from their teachers.

“Everything in the class is nice and it’s a nice environment to learn in.” Wafaa has progressed from knowing only some of the English alphabet, to now being able to read and understand “very easy’’ English books. She enjoys being in the classes because she feels the people at English Language Partners are supportive, and also finds the teaching style really helpful “to learn and get more information about everything English”.










Mainly wheelchair-bound, Wafaa describes Ahmed as a “big support” and says her motivation to learn comes from her desire to make a new life in her new country. She hopes to eventually find employment once her English has improved and she has developed some computer skills.

Wafaa is grateful to the people who have been supporting her and Ahmed since they arrived in “lovely Dunedin”, including Red Cross support worker Lynette Will, who she describes as “family”. She wants to make those who have supported her proud of her achievements. 

Paul Naidu, English Language Partners’ Dunedin manager, says they are already proud of her successes. “She doesn’t have to do any more than she’s already done, we’re extremely proud of her.’’ 

Wafaa says while “of course” she missed Syria, she feels she is now settled in Dunedin. “People here make me feel like I’m in my home.”

(Wafaa spoke through an interpreter and with support from Lina Mukdad, class Cultural and Language Assistant.)

Story and photos: Greta Yeoman