Creativity assists with settlement
New arrivals from war torn countries like Sudan need more help to stay in school or gain meaningful work experience to avoid becoming involved in criminal activity, according to a former teenage refugee.
Nyadol Nyuon, who arrived with her family in Australia in 2005, knows from her own experience that more educational support is needed – especially in regional Australia – to help young people maximise their potential. She is now an ambassador for The Social Studio in Melbourne which helps mostly African refugees gain hands-on experience in the fashion, retail and hospitality industries.
“A lot of young people from refugee backgrounds struggle when they go to high school, and since young people spend a lot of their time in high school this is an environment where, if more is invested in it, they can get more out of it,” Ms Nyuon said.
She told a parliamentary inquiry into multiculturalism that giving more support to young people struggling at school could help them stay engaged and less likely to become involved with gangs and other criminal behaviour.
“So if we invest in schools and the education system we might also be countering some other issues in the community and maybe even stopping other things from happening in the future,” she said.
Chief executive of The Social Studio, Grace McQuilten said the studio was started as a direct response to a range of settlement issues faced by refugees, including unemployment, isolation and difficulties accessing education and training.
The studio has had success in retaining 90 per cent of its students with a range of strategies such as providing them with access
to education and assistance with employment opportunities in retail, hospitality and clothing production. This creates a sense of social inclusion and community engagement through their interaction with customers and other members of the public.
Dr McQuilten said the studio’s fashion focus helps. “The most obvious is our focus on creativity through fashion and design, and our flexible training delivery where students access TAFE level training, all of which occurs in a supportive setting at The Social Studio,” she said.
“A number of programs are attached to the enterprise to ensure students can access support for issues that impact on their ability to participate, including driving tuition, financial counselling, legal advice, referrals for housing, medical needs and counselling.”
Dr McQuilten cited a Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission study which supported Ms Nyuon’s views on the need for greater educational support for newly arrived refugees.
The study of African Australians found the settlement experience is made difficult by a lack of flexibility at education and training facilities to meet the needs of refugee students. It also highlighted the negative attitudes by some teachers and trainers to the
abilities of their refugee students, and their difficulties with the curriculum due to a lack of formal education.
The study found younger refugees can lack confidence in English, which creates significant anxiety and feelings of embarrassment on the part of students and can result in increased absences or dropping out.
“We advocate for increased support systems for refugee students in primary and secondary schools, along with alternative educational programs and vocational training for students who discontinue schooling,” Dr McQuilten said.
“Supportive workplace based training and work experience programs greatly enhance the employability of newly arrived migrants from refugee backgrounds. We have found that with increased confidence, self-esteem and English language skills young people form the building blocks for subsequent employment.”
Ms Nyuon told MPs at the hearing that when it comes to community awareness of multiculturalism, she thinks more has to be done from within communities such as her own Sudanese community.
“We need to do more to reach out to the mainstream Australian community,” she said. “Also, more needs to be done by government officials in making sure that the idea of multiculturalism does not look like something that the ethnic community or people who look ethnic do and the rest sort of watch. Maybe we as a community are not demonstrating very well how multiculturalism benefits our society.
“If we put more emphasis on that, maybe people could see that it is part of an Australian identity, not something that belongs to certain people.”
Ms Nyuon highlighted the media’s role in how certain communities are being perceived in Australia.
“Particularly the Sudanese communities we deal with have had very bad media coverage — the notions of Sudanese gangs, which is really disproportionate to what is happening in the community.
“It does not assist in the process of settlement, it does not assist in making better communities; it just makes communities scared. We become scared of each other because we are made to feel like our neighbour is a bad person who may attack us.
“That is another thing that needs to be combated. More action needs to be taken. More and more young people feel that if they try to reach out for an Australian identity, it is almost as though they are being told ‘You’re not Australian enough in some ways’.”