'Best thing I've ever done': Call-out for volunteer tutors

Elsy Marta.
Elsy Marta.

Yes. No. My name is Elsy and I am 30.

They are the only words Elsy Marta, a mother-of-three originally from Lebanon, knew when she came to Australia.

She enrolled in the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) but found it difficult to get to classes. So what was the young mum - who wanted to read, write and speak good English for her children - to do?

She found Navitas Skilled Futures' Volunteer Tutor Scheme (VTS) - and she said it is "the best thing I've ever done in Sydney".

The scheme, which is free to eligible people as part of the AMEP, assists those who need extra support learning English through one-on-one tuition.

After almost three years of tutoring with Sandi Joelson, the 38-year-old midwife passed her Australian Citizenship test "the first time, easy".

Elsy is now confident speaking with other people, including her son's school teachers and is more familiar with Australian systems.

Navitas Skilled Futures is currently seeking interested people to train as volunteer tutors, with a particular need for females in the Fairfield/Liverpool area, which has a high demand for Arabic speakers. However you do not need to speak a second language to join the program. The commitment is one hour of your choosing per week and no teaching experience is necessary. Free training, resources and ongoing support are provided.

Sandi, 72, started tutoring Elsy face-to-face in 2019 but with the COVID lockdown they were forced online, using WhatsApp, as well as texting and phone calls. The pair kept tutoring during Elsy's last pregnancy and covered relevant topics like vaccinations during COVID and voting in the election. Sandi will also listen to Elsy read a book to her children.

"I was born in Australia but my parents were refugees from war-torn Germany, so volunteering is my way of giving something back, and ever since I was a child I've loved helping people," Sandi said.

Sandi Joelson.

Sandi Joelson.

"With Elsy she used to be nervous speaking English ... but one of the comments she's made is that I have given her the confidence to speak it ... even if she makes mistakes, and her fluency has really improved.

"You do become friends with your student, especially after two years - we share things, she sends me lots of photos, and for birthdays, we send those online cards. In the back of it I will always correct her English, but in a way that's helpful, you know, not in a way that condemns, so I'd say, 'We would say it this way', and she appreciates that.

"In Australia we are blessed that we don't have wars in our country, so we just want to be able to help those people who come here to improve their English and go into the community and be able to navigate the system that makes it easier. That's all it's about."

Navitas' call-out for volunteer tutors coincides with the National Volunteer Week (May 16 to 22). While the volunteer tutor's primary purpose is to help students with English, they often have a much broader role of providing friendship and cultural information.

Navitas Skilled Futures VTS coordinator Marcella Aguilar said with people returning to work and adjusting to new jobs, they need more volunteers to help keep people's settlement journeys on track.

"It's an opportunity to engage with members of your local community who are new arrivals and assist them in the settling process by providing individualised language support," she said.

"It is hugely rewarding as tutors really do make a difference and have a lasting impact on someone's life...and they also get to learn about a new culture themselves.

"I love to receive feedback from tutors about our client successes, when they get a job, start a certificate course, use a computer or access the internet for the first time, learn how to access services and achieve their learning goals, which in turn makes their life in Australia so much easier."

This story 'Best thing I've ever done': Call-out for volunteer tutors first appeared on Fairfield City Champion.