By Nicola Sutton, CE English Language Partners
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
This African proverb underpins English Language Partners’ (ELP) core value of working in partnership to help former refugees and migrants put down strong roots and succeed in their new lives.

Aotearoa is one of the world’s super diverse countries, with people from all cultures settling and enriching our lives, neighbourhoods and communities.

For newer Kiwis, navigating your way in an unfamiliar culture can be daunting, especially for those arriving with little or no English.

Language skills assist in making friends and accessing local services. They are essential for securing employment and embarking on further education and training. When people speak English well, they are more likely to take an active part in life in their new country.

Good communication skills allow migrants to connect more easily in their communities, and to build a wider support network. These links can help newcomers thrive, rather than just survive, in
their new homeland.

Well-interconnected community organisations and agencies play an important role here, and English Language Partners’ networks and partnerships with community organisations open new doors for ELP’s learners, bringing further learning experiences and opportunities, and helping to unlock the skills that Aotearoa’s newer citizens bring with them.

Our recent partnership work in Nelson with Multicultural Nelson Tasman and the Victory Community Centre resulted in a new ‘community navigator’ role to help former refugees and migrants, people like Nary Nhean, a learner with our Nelson centre, find their way through New Zealand’s social support, health and government systems.

When Nary moved to New Zealand from Cambodia four years ago, her then 13-year-old son couldn’t come with her. Nary needed an immigration lawyer, which was difficult to afford on her income as a hotel housekeeper. Cristy Aydon, Nelson’s community navigator, was able to put her in touch with a local immigration lawyer who provided an initial consultation and assessment of her case for free.

The new navigator role offers three layers of support to former refugees and migrants: providing information, making referrals and providing direct support, such as attending appointments together. “I’ll help with anything that comes my way,” Cristy says.

The position is funded by the Nelson City Council and the Rata Foundation, and sees Cristy helping people to find jobs, access health services, find housing and deal with agencies such as Inland Revenue, Work and Income and Immigration New Zealand.

ELP’s local manager Tony Fitzwater, says the local initiative has been a real success. “It works perfectly for us, so we’re hoping others will roll it out too.”

In Palmerston North we have another example of collaboration – this time between ELP and the close by Universal College of Learning (UCOL).

The idea developed as UCOL’s Education Head of School, Dr Bridget Percy, recognised that UCOL had the facilities to help out a worthy community group. “It made perfect sense for us to offer our computer suites, when they are available, to English Language Partners’ learners,” says Bridget. The result over – eighty ELP ESOL Literacy and ESOL intensive learners now have a way to improve their digital literacy skills.

Fifty-eight-year-old Aung Win from Myanmar didn’t know anything about computers when he started learning two years ago. He’s now quite adept on the keyboard and admits, apart from learning about basic computer operation, he likes to keep up with the news and weather online.

As part of the agreement with UCOL, ELP’s learners are also entitled to a student bus pass, allowing them to travel for free around the city. This benefit removes barriers former refugees and migrants can encounter in getting around and contributes towards learners’ goals of living confidently and independently in New Zealand.

ELP’s learners regularly participate in UCOL’s International Festivals, adding to the campus diversity. They also become familiar with campus life, which facilitates a more comfortable pathway into
the tertiary environment.

As one of the main barriers to employment for refugees is transportation, a driver’s licence can also be a licence to independence, jobs and freedom, and is recognised as especially important in regional areas where public transportation is limited.

Many former refugees haven’t driven before coming to New Zealand, and they face the challenge of getting their driver’s licence in a new country and a new language.

To help former refugees through this process, a joint initiative was set up to assist people gain their drivers’ licences – increasing employability and independence. People like Luis Godoy. Luis quickly realised that, in New Zealand, driving a car is very important. He works for a joiner and was keen to get his licence so his employer didn’t need to transport him to job sites.

Luis and his family fled violence in Colombia and now live in Nelson. Luis rode a moped in his home town, but driving a car here is “more necessary,” he says. “And also, I have a big family.” His six children range in age from three to 15.

The drivers’ licence partnership is a coordinated, two-part project and runs in five cities around the country. ELP delivers the first part of the project: the ‘ESOL Road Code’ programme which helps participants learn the theory to sit their learner’s licence. The second part, the ‘Open Road’ programme, provides the practical ‘behind-the-wheel’ lessons people need before taking a road test to gain their restricted licence. The ‘Open Road’ programme is organised by Red Cross and three other agencies (Migrant Action Trust; Changemakers and Hamilton Multicultural Services Trust).

We also recently partnered with local government in Porirua.

Prior to the local body elections, ELP’s Porirua centre engaged with a team from the Electoral Commission to deliver workshops to inform learners about voting in New Zealand. As a result, the majority of participants enrolled to vote.

Porirua City Council (PCC) engaged with ELP’s learners in a workshop on the Council’s 30-year Growth Strategy Plan, enabling learners to have input into the future of their community. Approximately 70 learners from across the Middle East, South America, Asia and the Pacific learnt about the strategy and gave their thoughts and ideas to the PCC team.

Teaching staff from ELP translated to ensure lower-level English learners understood, and PCC staff talked with new Kiwis to learn more about their settlement experiences. Not only did the workshop facilitate civic participation for former refugees and migrants, it allowed people to be valued as members of their community.

As Philippa Cairns, manager, ELP Bay of Plenty puts it “In a proper partnership you share your strengths, and that’s what makes us stronger.”

For newcomers, feeling you belong helps dignified settlement and contributes towards people becoming valuable members of the community. Newer Kiwis have much to offer, and ELP recognises that partnerships with local organisations and agencies throughout the country play an important part in helping former refugees and migrants to share the skills and expertise they bring with them.

In a country with a small population and limited resources, simplifying and streamlining services and information makes good sense. New Zealand benefits as a whole and our country becomes a more welcoming and inclusive place for all.

All of which has substantial benefits for New Zealand society.