Refugees assimilate to funny side of learning

Finding common ground through humour is the best way to break down cultural barriers for refugees.

The Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle’s Development and Relief Agency (DARA) plays an integral role in the settlement of refugees and new migrants in the Newcastle and Hunter region. Specifically, DARA’s Refugee Hub supports and empowers refugees by offering classes that go beyond English lessons, acting as pathways to education, employment and training.

Refugee Week, 16 June-22 June, is dedicated to raising awareness of the issues affecting refugees, and more importantly celebrating the positive contributions they make to the town they now call home.

Kirsten Beletich, Clare Murphy and Olivia Gollan are high school teachers of St Francis Xavier’s College, Hamilton, but they go beyond their scope of classroom work to engage with refugee families who have newly arrived in Newcastle from Sudan, Congo, Afghanistan, Tibet, Syria and other countries.

The teachers, who are used to planning lessons for Year 11 and 12 students according to a set curriculum, admit their Tuesday-evening English lessons have taught them there are many ways of teaching and learning.

They acknowledge connection and laughter are the paragons of learning for their class.

“You think about how you need to really jump in and get involved with the refugees, how you really need to connect before any other learning can begin,” Kirsten said. “It accentuates and highlights the human side.

“Finding that common ground through humour helps to break down that language barrier, and allows refugees to let go and have fun with activities – to the extent that naming clothing quickly turns into a catwalk.

“Our classes remind me how important it is for people to feel connected – a sense of community helps with everything; learning and communicating are helped along by this.”

Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp acknowledged their work in State Parliament on 4 June.

“Ms [Clare] Murphy and Kirsten Beletich are two of 10 teachers from St Francis Xavier’s College who have volunteered to help break down language barriers for refugees and to acclimatise new arrivals to Australia’s more idiosyncratic cultural nuances,” Crakanthorp said.

“The classes these teachers offer do more than teach a language; they build a community. They are vital to assisting refugees orient themselves with the Australian way of life, develop their confidence and abilities and give back to their new home.”

The classes began this year, with the group meeting on CatholicCare premises every Tuesday evening. For the majority of the group, the teachers say they share the wishes to find employment as their English progresses.

It’s a wish DARA can only fulfil with the help of volunteers, such as Kirsten, Clare and Olivia.

If you would like to volunteer to teach English, assist with employment opportunities, offer housing for refugees and/or donate warm clothing, blankets or nappies, please contact DARA at

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Brittany Gonzalez

Brittany Gonzalez is Communications Co-ordinator in the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.