Russian Cultural Centre in Christchurch

The Russian Cultural Centre in Christchurch was established in 2000 to promote and preserve the Russian language and culture. The centre provides classes for children (including adopted children) and adults, and holds cultural events and performances. They also run English language courses for adults, helping them integrate into New Zealand society.

Anna Filippochkina is the programme coordinator at the centre and director of the school. She arrived in New Zealand in 1998 and was involved with the trust’s establishment

With a Masters in Russian Language in Teaching and Literature, Anna had not a word of English when she arrived. Like most young or middle-aged migrants she did learn, and quite quickly, but the difficulties of learning English from someone who had no knowledge of Russian grammar made the process doubly hard. What was needed, she decided, were classes taught by Russian speakers. Two years after her arrival she was involved in the establishment of the Trust and helped set up the English Language Project and facilitate the Trust’s language and cultural programme which includes classes in Russian (for children and adults), history, art, and dance.

The first ESOL class had sixty learners and since then they have had about twenty-five each year. The classes are for two hours on Saturday morning for 40 weeks (keeping school holidays free). Many of the learners are not yet residents, so they don’t qualify for state supported ESOL classes.

Like most ESOL programmes the lessons are around everyday situations like vising a doctor, shopping, banking, travelling, telephoning and calling a handyman. The focus is on reading, writing, listening speaking and spelling. Along with the language learning the students learn about New Zealand geography, culture, and traditions, and they are encouraged to celebrate our national holidays including Waitangi Day and ANZAC Day.

Risingholme, a TEC funded ACE provider, is a long-time supporter of the ESOL programmes run by the trust, “Without their support,” says Anna, “We cannot survive.”

For the Trust, like most NGOs, funding is an ongoing challenge. All of the 10 tutors providing courses have tertiary qualifications in their country of origin and the trust’s board is determined that they should be paid for their challenging work. That means Anna, who is also paid a part time salary as the centre’s coordinator, needs to constantly apply for funding. They get grants from COGS, the Christchurch City Council, Lotteries and some philanthropic funding.

Finding a building has been an ongoing challenge. At the beginning the Centre was using the Multi-Cultural Learning Centre's facilities. Later they were able to rent space in a Christchurch community house, but that was destroyed (along with all their resources and books) in the earthquakes. The rent in the new community centre was unaffordable for this small organisation. For a while they were happy to be able to use a kindergarten premises in the weekends. Now they run both their Russian language and culture classes and their ESOL classes at Hagley Community College.