Connecting with the community through volunteering

Learner Stories

What inspires Nikki about volunteering with English Language Partners (ELP) is seeing new Kiwis gain confidence in their everyday lives. “It’s amazing. Everyone is so different in their needs, and yet every person I've met has a strong need for independence.”

Nikki volunteers for English Language Partners in Wellington. Nikki’s among 800 ELP volunteers who visit the homes of newer Kiwis all around Aotearoa New Zealand each week to help them learn English.

Currently, she’s visiting two learners as well as helping out in an ELP class, so she’s a bit of a ‘super volunteer’.

Nikki grew up in England around people from many different countries. “My husband, Giacomo, is from Italy. We met in the UK and came over here for his job for just one year, like everyone does, and we just stayed!”

Wanting to connect with newcomers to New Zealand in a meaningful way, Nikki first volunteered for New Zealand Red Cross and, in 2019, helped five former refugee families settle into the Wellington region.

She recalls spending an entire morning filling in forms with a Syrian family, “to help them connect with GPs and what have you.” Seeing the family’s enthusiasm to do things for themselves gave Nikki the idea of helping with English, but she had no clue about how to teach and realised she needed training, resources and some expert support.

Training as a home tutor

When she heard about English Language Partners through another Red Cross volunteer, Nikki immediately saw a natural connection, as both organisations help new Kiwis resettle. “There’s the same feeling of just wanting to help,” Nikki says.

She describes her ESOL home tutor training course.

“It was brilliant.  It was post-lockdown, and way better than I’d anticipated. The ELP centre people were warm and embracing, and all the volunteers were pretty much there for the same reasons, that we believe in equal human rights, and having access to these.”

Although she’s lived in Italy and speaks pretty good Italian, Nikki says her standout memory from the training was an hour spent immersed in Bosnian, a language she’d never heard before. “It really helps with the teaching, just to realise that, from the learner’s perspective, that's how it always is, it’s all in English.”

Meeting people from all over the world

Since training in 2020, Nikki’s taught English to women from China, Iran, Somalia and Thailand, and still teaches her first learner, Melkame, who’s from Ethiopia and has been here for eight years. Lessons are fitted between her work shifts. “Each lesson, we’re making small steps but each step is really valuable.

Melkame has also started using phone apps to practise reading English, which she also fits in around her busy work schedule. “Switching on her phone and just scrolling through to read a few words, that’s actually relaxing, yet really beneficial.”

“It's about self-belief as well,” says Nikki.  “Another learner, Lai, used to say, ‘I can't read’. Now she says, ‘I can actually read’. I think those changes are significant.”

Nikki says helping Melkame complete her passport application was special. “She’d already received her citizenship, but getting her New Zealand passport was a real milestone,” she says. Then she could arrange her first trip back to Ethiopia.

Knowing she’s taking an interest in Melkame’s language and both investing time to be there each week means the two share a close bond. “And I get to eat some lovely food,” Nikki says. “Last week Melkame made me Injera bread, which I love!”

Adapting lessons for each learner

One thing Nikki enjoys about volunteering is getting a feel for what’s comfortable for the other person. Her first role in New Zealand was in user experience, understanding difficulties people have interacting with digital interfaces. As an ESOL home tutor, she realises everyone has a different goal and a different way of learning. “I keep on trying to understand what’s best for them,” she says. “I suppose that's user experience.”

Nikki’s now taking her teaching to the next level and has started a TESOL diploma at Victoria University. She also volunteers in an ELP ‘ESOL Intensive’ class each week and met her other home tutor learner from Thailand through the course. “It’s really cool, as it goes well with the class study.”

Nikki says she’d encourage everyone to give home tutoring a go.

“You get a feel for other cultures. Connecting with people will challenge all your assumptions,” Nikki says. “It's refreshing and rewarding work.”

She says the work is enormously important. “Absolutely. Without the language it's really hard. You're leaning on people all the time and that feeling is the last thing people want,” she says.

“They've gone through a lot, and they’re resilient and strong.”

“The language is a way of creating their own paths.”

Inspired?  Become a volunteer home tutor

We are always looking for more volunteer home tutors.  Upcoming training dates vary around Aotearoa New Zealand.  

- Check the training dates for your nearest centre Learn English in New Zealand - 21 centres nationwide - ELPNZ (englishlanguage.org.nz)

- Register your interest as a volunteer home tutor Volunteer with English Language Partners New Zealand

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