GSSC students pay it forward

By Madi Chwasta

Year 10 work experience is a time to test out a possible career path, get a taste for life in the workforce, or to just have a break from the usual school routine.

But for four Greater Shepparton Secondary College students, it’s more than that – it’s about giving back.

El Ngunda, Mew Rinrada Khaorungrueang, Alice Uwimana and Isaac Museme are all completing their week of work experience at the Shepparton English Language Centre, after studying there themselves when they first arrived in Australia.

And all four have been loving it.

Throughout the week, they have been helping teachers, translating for kids, playing games in the schoolyard, and reminiscing on their time as students.

Having fun: GSSC work experience students El Ngunda, Alice Uwimana, Isaac Museme, and Mew Rinrada Khaorungrueang.

Isaac is from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and enjoys helping out the younger Congolese students.

“I like translating to kids who don’t understand English,” he said.

El is also Congolese, and thanks the school for her impeccable English.

“I could only say, “Hi, how are you?” when I got here,” she said.

“I feel so great being here, I really missed it.”

While Alice, also from the Democratic Republic of Congo, knew how to speak English when she arrived in Australia, she said attending the school boosted her confidence.

“I was shy to speak,” she said.

“It’s good being here to help students - I’ve come in like a teacher.”

Mew, from Thailand, said it was her dream to work at the school and give back to the community.

“I want to be like the teachers here to help people like me,” she said.

Shepparton English Language School co-ordinator Laurie Hucker said the current group of work experience students were fantastic.

“For other secondary kids at the English school, it’s great to have role models in the classroom,” he said.

“They’re fresh out of school, and having them here tells them, “if you work hard, you can be like them”.”

Inspiring next generation: GSSC work experience students El Ngunda, Alice Uwimana, Isaac Museme, and Mew Rinrada Khaorungrueang.

The school operates out of St Georges Road Primary School, and has grown to about 120 students across primary and secondary year levels since opening in 2008.

A vast majority of the students are refugees - some having lived in camps - and they’re from an array of ethnic backgrounds, primarily from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria and Afghanistan.

Most students will complete one year full-time at the school, focusing on learning the English language, but are also required to study maths, sports and art.

Upon successful completion, they are then able to transition into a mainstream school, TAFE or the workforce.

Mr Hucker said while teaching English was the main goal, they also worked to help students adjust to Australian culture, and promote acceptance for all ethnic groups.

“Coming here can be a culture shock, and some kids have different welfare needs, but we try to make sure they’re happy and comfortable.”

He said they had employed former students, as it helped having people working at the school who could connect with the kids, and could maintain connections with their families and broader communities.

“If we see students with potential, we ask them to be trainees,” Mr Hucker said.

“Six of our past students have been trainees, and four have stayed on.

“They’ve been refugees themselves, so they understand the struggle.”

Reza Kareem is one of the former students who is now an employee of the school, having arrived from Afghanistan about 10 years ago.

He has been working there since 2014, whilst completing a university degree in civil engineering.

He has held a variety of roles in the organisation, including working as a classroom aid and in administration, and is building his professional skills day by day.

“It’s wonderful working here, there’s lots of support,” he said.

“It’s like a family.”