Sharing life's special moments | ELPNZ

Sharing life's special moments

27 November 2007

Husband and wife volunteers, Bronwyn Barnard and David Nicholson have shared special times with their learners.

Bronwyn and friendsThere have been events to celebrate – the birth of children, citizenship ceremonies and other achievements. There have also been less dramatic but significant moments – such as laughing together and realizing they could share a joke, or picking up a confident answerphone message.  

Rekindling an interest

Bronwyn, a Department of Conservation lawyer, and David, a journalist, became volunteers after Bronwyn met a group of Somali people in Wellington's Boulcott Street.

'They were holding a piece of paper and looking up and down the street,' she said. 'I thought they must be looking for the passport office so I approached them. That was where they needed to go so I took them there.

It made me think about how hard it must be to arrive somewhere and not know the language.' Bronwyn had taught English language while living in India, Indonesia and Singapore so she sought out English Language Partners.

'Even having taught ESOL before, I was extremely impressed with the training,' she said. 'There was a lot of cultural information. I had never taught refugees before, people who have been totally dislocated from their culture. Finding out more about them and their situations was enlightening, especially when people came and told their stories about how hard it was to settle and adjust.'  

Meeting Khadija

Bronwyn also learnt that older women often find it harder to integrate and may rely on their children, who pick up new languages more easily. So she was pleased to be matched with Khadija, an older Somali woman who is carer for her twin grandchildren, and had been resettled from a refugee camp in Ethiopia. 

'Khadija is the same sort of age as me,' said Bronwyn. 'She was not literate in her own language. Her family had been dispersed and she did not know where many of them were. She lives in a flat in Newtown and has always been very welcoming to me.  

‘Khadija also attended English group classes at a community centre, meeting people from many other cultures. They shared their stories in English and that became their common bond.'  For the first lesson, Bronwyn took a map, thinking they could talk about Somalia and Ethiopia, but found Khadija could not relate to anything on paper, it was simply something she had not experienced before.  

'We started off with very simple sentences,' said Bronwyn. 'Things like "my name is." We talked about food and would go around the supermarket going over words for everyday things. Khadija is very smart and very quickly grasped the currency and issues like GST.' 

Rebuilding a life

Khadija's grandchildren were seven when they arrived in New Zealand and attended their local Berhampore Primary School which offered the family great support and encouragement – for the last two years Khadija has worked there as a cleaner.  

'Learning English, it has inevitably been a slow process for Khadija,' said Bronwyn. 'She can communicate pretty well now and is brilliant at leaving messages on my answerphone. 'She does suffer great sadness.

Bad news about events in Somalia upset her dreadfully and she really worries. She still does not know where a lot of her family are. Sometimes she is so distressed that we just go for a walk, or Khadija makes tea and we sit and drink that together. Her happiness comes and goes but she is pleased the children are safe and happy. She will look at them playing and say to me "Children happy, that is good."  

'Despite her traumatic experiences she is a very open and lovely person. One day we were walking in Newtown and her hajib blew in the wind. I said "You could fl y like a bird Khadija." She got the joke straight away and laughed. It was the first time we had shared a joke. I think we connect on an emotional level. a trip to the snow

Sharing cultures

'Sometimes we all go for trips to the regional parks with David's learner Abdi and his family. This year we took Khadija and the children to Ruapehu. It was the first time they had seen snow and we had a lovely time. I think that was the only time she had been out of Wellington since arriving, but working has given her confidence.

She has a friend in Hamilton and she is talking about visiting there. 'Khadija and I are friends. She has given me insight into a totally different way of life and way of doing things. She invited David and I to the feast at the end of Ramadam. I really enjoy her company. Last week we just sat and talked together for the best part of an hour and that was just fantastic.'  

Award-winning work

This year, Bronwyn was awarded the Clanz-Wigley and Company Community Contribution Award for her voluntary work. This includes a $7,000 cheque for the charity of the winner's choice – which Bronwyn asked to go to English Language Partners, where it will be used to upgrade the Wellington resource database. 

David has also had the same Somali learner, Abdirashin – Abdi for short, since he first became a volunteer. At that time, Abdi had just arrived in New Zealand with his wife Halima and two children as refugees. He spoke very little English.  

Today the couple, who also live in Newtown, have five children, and David has also been able to offer practical support, including helping find Abdi a job as a storeman and helping him to study for his taxi driver's qualification.

Supporting the family

'Abdi was very keen to work,’ said David. 'I was in Commonsense Organics one day and noticed they had several African staff. I asked if they had any vacancies and they said to tell Abdi to go in and see them. He has been working there for two years. 

'He has now qualified as a taxi driver, which he plans to do on Friday nights and at weekends. We went over and over the training booklets until he knew everything extremely well. He is very committed and determined to do the best for his family.'  

Firm friends

Bronwyn and David were invited to the citizenship ceremonies for both Khadija and Abdi and their families. 'Abdi's English is really very good now and he is pretty independent,' said David. 'We are now more friends than teacher and learner but if he needs help with something specific he will ask. Certainly for me it has been very satisfying, not just to have helped people who arrived here in a traumatised state to a place which was strange and very different – it has increased my understanding too.

You see Somali woman out walking, covered from head to toe, and it seems strange and foreign but once you get to know that person you realise it is simply a way of dressing. After all – until a few years ago nuns would dress like that in this country and we all thought that was perfectly normal.'  

Writer Patricia Thompson