A new start in life for refugee children

Zara’s House Refugee Women and Children’s Centre provides bilingual education to young refugee families living in Newcastle. By providing language and social skills and addressing some of the challenges that refugees and asylum seekers face when settling into multi-cultural Australia, Zara’s House helps build confidence, self-esteem and a sense of belonging in their new community.

Each year the school readiness programme at Zara’s House teaches about 30 children in language and age groups from three to five years old, while their mothers’ study English close by.

The Bilingual Early Childhood Socialisation and Language Programme is an amazing engagement and learning space that’s full of stimulating and fun activities for younger children. It is close enough for the mothers to be available but also out of sight, so they can all concentrate on their own developmental activities.

Sister Diana Santleben from Zara’s House said she is so thankful to have wonderfully supportive organisations like Port Waratah that make these invaluable programmes possible and change these young families’ lives in such an incredibly positive and lasting way.

“Each day the mothers entrust their little children into our care, and we are humbled by the professionalism of our early education teachers,” Sister Diana said.

The teachers in these classes are educated native speakers, usually former primary school teachers from Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.

“I guess this professionalism is shown in the joy and involvement of the children who have learned to write their names in both English and their mother’s language. It is also shown by the little ones who are learning how to take turns and say, ‘thank you’.”

Zara’s House bilingual education and literacy programme is well-established in Newcastle with three groups of children completing the programme and attending school with an understanding of English as well as their mother’s language.

Word is spreading about the benefits this programme is delivering for refugee families across Newcastle, with a University of Western Sydney Professor recently researching the work at Zara’s House as an example of a successful multicultural early education programme in Australia.

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