A wealth of experience | ELPNZ

A wealth of experience

03 October 2007

Unlike many new migrants, Ahmed Yusuf Ali already had experience working on a committee when he became a founding member of the Ethnic Advisory Group in 2002. This was thanks to his former role as a teacher and administrator for Ethiopia's Ministry of Culture and Sports.

Working with many cultures

Ahmed'But it is a different experience working on the EAG,' he says. 'We have had Chinese, Korean, Somali, Ethiopian, Iraqi, Burmese, Samoan and Filipino members, and we have all learnt to allow time and space for everyone and respect each others' different views.'

From teacher to advisor

Ahmed completed his tertiary education and graduated with a degree in the Ethiopian languages and literature in Addis Ababa University in 1985.In 1991 Ahmed left Ethiopia for Sudan and worked as a teacher with Ethiopian refugee children in the city of Khartoum.

He came to New Zealand through the UNHCR refugee quota in 1994, and was among the first Ethiopian refugees to settle in Christchurch. Already an English speaker thanks to his teaching experience and educational background, Ahmed became involved with the ESOL home tutor scheme through his work interpreting for learners at matchings and in group classes. In 2001 he became an ESOL home tutor himself, and the following year Christchurch coordinator Judith Murphy approached him to join the newly formed Ethnic Advisory Group.

Advising on learners' needs

Ahmed sees the EAG's role as acting as a cultural go-between, offering advice to English Language Partners on how to best meet the needs of its learners. He says highlights for him have been working on reducing the number of learners on waiting lists and looking at ways of measuring outcomes of the tutoring process. 'Home tutoring is so informal and different from traditional structured learning, it is very hard to measure outcomes,' he says. 'We have also been considering the issue of a curriculum - whether one is necessary or appropriate for home tutoring, and if so, what form it could take.'

Ahmed is currently the EAG representative on English Language Partners' National Executive Board, and travels to Wellington several times a year to attend meetings. 'The staff at the national office in Wellington are very kind,' he says. 'Through them I have seen the city and gained a lot of experience meeting different people.' For the past year Ahmed has also been a member of the English Language Partners' committee in Christchurch, and on a personal level, is continuing his work with Christchurch's Ethiopian community. He estimates most of its 200 or so members have now had some contact with the home tutor service.

Cultural links

He acted as sponsor for his wife Fatima to come to New Zealand, and he says Christchurch will always be important to him because their wedding took place there, as did the happy arrival last year, of baby daughter, M'erapheh. His daughter's name bears great significance as it carries Ahmed's passion for his homeland and his new country. As Ahmed says, 'M'erapheh means chapter or in Arabic, surah. Her last name is Yusuf. M'erapheh Yusuf is one of the chapters in the Qur'an - Surah Yusuf. Her name reminds me of the suffering of the Prophet Yusuf, the son of Jacob, who was persistent and accomplished his mission. 'I am not comparing his sufferings with my own. I just want to learn from his story. I want to remember the hardship, the distance I travelled and the years it took me to sponsor Fatima, her mother, and my sisters.

And of course the challenges of keeping connections with my forebears, and through my daughter, commemorating the beginning of links from my forebears to the forebears' of this land, Aotearoa/New Zealand.'

Writer Sarah Johnston