Sixty Something: Changing my view on refugees

Hello Sixty Something readers. Once again I am here to bore, delight or just take up a few minutes of your time as you read my few hundred words. By the time you have decided you like this or you want to tear me to pieces or whatever you think of it, I hopefully will have been and come home from my little hospital visit. In a week, I will be having a knee replacement. The joys of osteoarthritis. 

I have been on the waiting list for three years now – that’s the 90-day waiting list! I am sure there are others in my situation or worse with the health system the way it is, so I am not complaining folks, just stating facts. Hopefully, I will breeze through it and be back in no time, but let me tell you, it is a little scarier than the flying lesson I took last week. I was so thrilled it was finally going to happen, but after going to pre-admission, I was terrified. It is a little daunting when you are on your own I think.

Anyway, moving right along. By now you all know I had a flying lesson, which was possibly the scariest and at the same time, greatest thing I have done. At Sixty Something, there is nothing more uplifting than doing things you out of your comfort zone. Don’t put it off folks. You owe it to yourselves to do something that may be boring to others but will enhance your life.

Last night I went to my second TAFE class. This is what I would like to talk about mostly this week. I am learning how to teach refugees and migrants to speak English. Anyone can enrol for these classes. There are so many wanting to learn to speak English and not enough teachers. 

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I am guilty of thinking at times that people shouldn’t come to this country unless they can speak the language. Last night, I met some refugees from two different countries and my attitudes changed. Refugees and migrants are different. A migrant chooses to live here for whatever reason and goes through the proper channels to do so. A refugee is someone who for whatever reason cannot live in their own country, although most want to. Some are political reasons and they fear for their lives, some have gone to other places for work and have been refused entry when they come home. I could go on and on but the reasons are mostly safety reasons and no fault of their own. 

I met a migrant who has been here for three years. She learned English through this program and is now studying it to teach others. Remember these classes are free and you don’t get paid to teach, you are a volunteer.

I then met two young men from two different countries and walks of life. They wanted desperately to learn our language. These men were so eager and polite. Both wanted to go home to their own countries but were realistic enough to know that it may never be possible. This is what we don’t realise: most refugees want to return home when possible. One of these men had been on a 17-year journey of trying to reach asylum before he made it to Australia. I could not imagine what it was like for him. He was full of gratitude.

Then I met a young woman. She had spent 22 years in a refugee camp in Nepal – 22 years! She was a small child when she was first sent there. She explained how eight people lived in a hut that was not waterproof. It washed away constantly and they put it back together. There was never enough food. It was not her choice to be there, but she HAD no choice. She was so grateful to be in Tasmania and to be able to learn English. She too hoped that one day she could go home. 

I am so grateful that I am sixty something and have the time to be able to take this class. I am so grateful that I have met these people and have learned that everything is not always as it seems. At sixty something with a not so great life behind me, I have lived the life of a queen compared to these people. I now look at them differently, with understanding and compassion. They look at me the same as they always have – with gratitude.

Would you ever teach English to refugees? Do you have a different perspective on refugees now?