VIDEO | Music helps refugees learn English

 Bashar Hanna: the facilitating artist of the Fairfield-based The Peacemakers Ensemble.
Bashar Hanna: the facilitating artist of the Fairfield-based The Peacemakers Ensemble.

I am, you are, we are Australian.

They are seven words from the iconic 1987 song I Am Australian  written by Bruce Woodley and Dobe Newton that shares Australia's unique journey as a nation. That's if you understand them.

That's where The Peacemakers Ensemble comes in.

The Fairfield-based group received funding through not-for-profit Settlement Services International's (SSI) $50,000 Community Innovation Fund to run their program Learning English Through Song.

Facilitating artist Bashar Hanna said he was hoping for maybe 20 recently-arrived Syrian and Iraqi refugees across Fairfield and Liverpool to be involved in the program which helps participants acquire the English language through the beauty and diversity of Australian song. As the program reaches the half-way point, they have 52 people taking part.

The group are learning three songs in their 12 fortnightly sessions: I Am Australian, Let it Be by Paul McCartney and Australia's national anthem Advance Australia Fair.

The group will perform a medley of the three songs at their graduation ceremony on July 3.

"We focus on key words and how to applies in real life situations," Mr Hanna said.

"It has been really beneficial. The sessions are so engaging and open for questions. It caters for all levels of English; some have nil, others basics and some know words but can't put them into sentences."

Mr Hanna, who arrived in Australia from Iraq in 1998, said the driving force being the program was his own journey in learning English.

An engineer by trade back in Baghdad, numbers and equations were his go-to language until he taught himself the language when he came to Australia.

The Peacemakers Ensemble is a community choir based in Fairfield with members of refugee backgrounds from Mesopotamian-Australian communities.

The Peacemakers Ensemble is a community choir based in Fairfield with members of refugee backgrounds from Mesopotamian-Australian communities.

Now the Prairiewood High School Community Liaison Officer, is focused on providing programs that he wished he had access to. Creative programs. Engaging programs. Musical programs.

"I believe the community needs this type of educational programs that are a bit outside of the circle and make the environment a bit of fun instead of just sitting in a classroom setting," said Bashar, who was last year awarded a Community Fellow of Western Sydney University for his music therapy initiatives. 

"Adults learn in different ways, especially those who have gone through trauma. There is nothing better than music as a tool to get in to their minds and hearts.

"When they sing you can see the smiles on their faces...it is relaxing them. The course is not only about teaching English, it is about improving their wellbeing as well.

"The people have also become friends and go to shops together which has improved their social interactions and social inclusion in society."

 SSI Community Engagement Coordinator Kat O’Neill and Bashar Hanna with members of the Peacemakers Ensemble.

SSI Community Engagement Coordinator Kat O’Neill and Bashar Hanna with members of the Peacemakers Ensemble.

The Peacemakers Ensemble were one of seven projects supporting refugee communities in south-west Sydney that received funding from SSI's Community Innovation Fund.

The other successful applicants were:

  • Al-Muntada (Iraqi Australian University Graduates Forum) - Iraqi Folklorama.
  • St Thomas Chaldean & Assyrian Catholic Diocese - English language course.
  • The Mandean Women's Union - Learn and Work for Our Future.
  • The Chaldean League of NSW - Technology Support not only computers with basic English skills.
  • Sophie Bejok - Laziz Project.
  • Diversity Disability Alliance - Strength through Peers Support.  

SSI Community Engagement Coordinator Kat O'Neill said Community Innovation Fund recipients drive their own project management and are supported by SSI with skills coaching and connections to contacts in SSI's networks, including the NSW Settlement Partnership.

"Encouraging individuals and groups to identify areas of concern in their own community, and the resources they can harness, gives that community a voice to shape its own priorities," she said. 

"It enables the community to have agency in the areas that matter most to them.

"When solutions are driven by the local community - by people who live and breathe their specific challenges and aspirations - the capacity of that community develops to find the most effective ways to meet their own needs.

"It is inspiring to see the recipients mentor each other, form connections, develop their projects and apply for other grants to expand their work." 

Mr Hanna said after the success of this year's program, he was hoping to secure more funding to continue it next year.

Last year the group received a grant through Fairfield Council's Social Change Through Creativity initiative for their program titled TRACK - Trauma Recovery and Creative Knowledge which saw refugees produce a musical composition and explore trauma and healing through 12-week mentoring workshops.

This story VIDEO | Music helps refugees learn English first appeared on Fairfield City Champion.