Celebrating Volunteer Week at Navitas English

May 17, 2021

There are not many opportunities to make someone’s life significantly better with nothing more than just one to two hours of your time each week.

But at Navitas English, hundreds of people of all ages, backgrounds and interests are doing just that – by participating in the Volunteer Tutor Scheme (VTS).

The scheme, which is part of the Australian Government’s Adult Migrant English Program* (AMEP), assists eligible migrants and refugees who need extra support learning English through one-on-one tuition.

During National Volunteer Week (17-23 May 2021) Navitas English is saying a big “thank you” to its 175 wonderful tutors across Sydney and Canberra, and to the hundreds more who have given their time to the program over the past seven years.

While the tutors’ primary purpose is to help students with English, they often have a much broader role of providing friendship, cultural information and assistance with the students’ settlement needs, says Navitas English Volunteer Tutor Coordinator Marcella Aguilar, who has personally delivered training to 505 tutors since 2017.

She said tutors did not need prior teaching experience or any special skills and it didn’t matter if English was not their first language.

“We have working professionals, retirees, university students, migrants and even ex-students, from all walks of life,” Ms Aguilar says.

“Our volunteer tutors find the role extremely rewarding, often calling it, ‘The best volunteering job in Australia’.”

AMEP students choose to have a tutor for a variety of reasons – some have young children, or are pregnant, some students have health or mobility issues and cannot get to a college. Tutors might also support students who are participating in specialty courses, such as AMEP Pathways to Work courses in childcare, office skills or aged care, for example. Tutors also help students with IELTS or employment preparation and citizenship courses.

Volunteers undergo training for the role of tutor and are matched with a client where they meet face to face for lessons, for one to two hours per week. There are currently 190 students in the program.

Navitas English Current Tutor Case Studies

YANBO WANG, 28

Mom and daughter standing in front of green wall

When Yanbo Wang moved from China to Sydney on a student visa six years ago she knew no one, spoke limited English and didn’t even know how to buy groceries or use public transport. She wished she had someone to guide her through her transition to life in Australia, rather than “learning the hard way”.

Today, as a tutor to Taiwanese migrant Ivy Chen (see STUDENT below), Yanbo is happy she can now “be that person for someone else”.

“It’s something I was imagining in my head; that I wanted to be that person for somebody else, who would make their life a little bit easier when they just started a new life in Australia,” Yanbo says. “So being able to make that thought come true, I’m really grateful for this opportunity from Navitas.”

With a similar cultural background and a shared first language of Mandarin, Yanbo says she never has to prepare material before their sessions. “There’s a lot of things in common between us that we can talk about. It’s funny because every time we plan to catch up for an hour we can’t stop talking and most of the time it is two hours, at least!”

Yanbo says having the same mother tongue helps when Ivy stumbles on a word or says something “weird”.

“It is not weird to me because I understand and know what she is trying to say. I was more than happy to take any student at any level, from any other cultural or language background. But I believe this is a fantastic match. And selfishly, helping her makes me feel really good!”

BONNIE LEPELAAR, 56

Selfie of woman smiling

The two women who Bonnie Lepelaar is tutoring might be of a similar age, but they have completely different backgrounds and lifestyles. The women, who are Syrian refugees with low-level English, do not work, and speak their native language at home and in their local communities.

“I think they only really speak English with me,” Bonnie says.

“If I’m going to teach English, I want to see progress, naturally, but I have also come to realise that these women want more than just becoming proficient in English. These two ladies really crave companionship and friendship. I think that is what these lessons represent to them.”

Bonnie works three days per week and wanted to give back to her local community with some of her free time. After working overseas for more than two decades, in Cambodia, the UK, Switzerland and Africa, English tutoring seemed a natural fit.

“I understand what it’s like to live cross-culturally and the challenges of trying to fit in when you don’t have the same language,” she says.

“The women are very grateful – one of the women is always making food for me! It’s so lovely and I’m glad I can have a positive effect on them.”

AMIEN AHMED, 71

Man sitting at desk in library holding pencil

For South African migrant Amien, it was the pursuit of the “Australian spirit of volunteering” that led him to sign up as a volunteer tutor with Navitas English seven years ago.

Amien has been in Australia for 22 years and recognised that not every migrant has the same opportunities he did when he arrived. He has supported the language and settlement journey of migrants from many backgrounds.

“I help them with more than just language,” he says.

“One of my students was unable to drive because of a small medical condition. I helped him get the appointments he needed to regain his independence.”

He has seen his students go on to complete their master’s degree, get married, and one former student is an active member of the Toastmasters. He encourages people to sign up to the scheme so they can “share the joy and happiness” he has experienced seeing new Australians “settle into the beautiful kaleidoscope of Australian society”.

ANNEKA WARD, 71

Anneka has tutored people of many backgrounds (from Asian countries, Russia, India and Spanish Columbia) since 2015. While she uses the college resources to converse with her students about topics such as housing, education, law, safety and applying for work, she says she learns just as much from them.

“It is very rewarding and, for myself, I get to know people from other cultures by showing an interest in them and asking them about their background,” she says.

“I find it an eye-opener, in a good way! And it makes you aware of other peoples’ needs and how important language skills are for everything you do.”

Anneka joined the VTS because she “wanted to give something to the community and help people with language skills in order to empower them and help them become part of the community”.

She is still in touch with the first lady she tutored: “People in their situation can be very isolated. This program means somebody comes to see them and pays them a bit of attention. Friendships can develop.”

STUDENT: YU-HAN (IVY) CHEN

Ivy was learning English through the AMEP at Navitas English’s Bankstown college, but could no longer attend when she secured full time work at Taiwan Bank in the city. So she was thrilled to start one-on-one tutor sessions with Yanbo in February this year.

“I speak Mandarin at work and at home with my husband, so I need to improve speaking English,” Ivy says.

“Yanbo is great. We always share our lives and our experiences, and we always go over one hour – usually two hours! She knows what it is like to be a new immigrant because she moved here too, so she is a great help to me. It is just like friends talking.

“I’m very grateful that she is willing to help me in her own time and I appreciate that Navitas has this kind of opportunity to provide home tutoring or I would not be able to improve my English.”

National Volunteer Week is Australia’s largest annual celebration of volunteers and runs from Monday 17 to Sunday 23 May 2021. The week acknowledges the significant contribution of almost six million volunteers who dedicate over 600 million hours to help other Australians.

For more information about the Volunteer Tutor Scheme, or to register your interest, go to: https://www.navitas-english.com.au/careers-and-volunteering/volunteering/.