Latest News

Peter’s Story – Mercy Connect Volunteer

“Volunteering is a two-way process. It is not all one way.
How do you explain joy? I feel happy afterwards.”

Peter is a Mercy Connect volunteer supporting adult refugee and asylum seekers to learn English one morning a week at Dandenong Library in Melbourne, Victoria.

“I am 80 years old, so I have been retired for quite a while. I work with adults who want to improve their English skills. I often help host the morning by welcoming people as they come in the door and allocating them to a tutor. There are resource materials that we get out of the cupboard and put away again and we provide the biscuits for a cup of coffee. It all runs itself pretty well.

Mostly, I tutor one adult at a time. Sometimes there are a couple of people at the table. The Afghan people are very motivated and have the most need. They want to be able to get a driver’s licence or perhaps prepare for citizenship or manage in society.

I call it “Survival English”, so you first have to find out where a person is starting from. I am not trying to teach them to pass an exam. I am trying to teach them to survive. I try to choose a theme that is relevant and necessary. The aim is to help them settle into a new country, a new culture and survive in it and enjoy it. And try to get over whatever traumas they have had before.

We may, for example, go over the topic of visiting a doctor. Talk with the doctor, get the prescription, and take it to the chemist. Then you read the pill packet. I have even taken along my packets. What does “Take two tablets twice a day” mean?

And then there are scenarios like the market. How much do things cost? What are all the vegetable names? What are they saying when it is three for two dollars?

One adult learner was not numerate. He cannot do arithmetic. He had never been to school. So, you are starting at a different point with him. He can count coins. But if you say, “You worked 9 hours at $15 per hour, here is $100”, he does not even know that he is being cheated.

One time I was talking with Ab Khaleq about bushfire risk in Australia and I asked him if they have similar bushfires in Afghanistan. He said no but they have guns and bombs. He knows what hazards and risks are, but they are a little bit different in Afghanistan.

Today we spent time talking about the way you address people. We were working through the cultural nuances of meeting people and saying hello. There is body language as well as language.

In Australia, we shake hands and look someone in the eye. ‘Hello, I am pleased to meet you.’ If you do not look at them it sends a bad signal. Ab Khaleq said that, in Afghanistan, he would never look directly at someone like me, older than him, when we greet each other. That would be rude.”

What is your favourite part about volunteering with Mercy Connect?

I suppose the friendship, the camaraderie with the other tutors and adult students who clearly appreciate what it is being done for them. What I most enjoy is the good feeling I get out of it. Not in an – “Aren’t I good?” – sense, but just feeling happy. I come home happy because it has been a good day. Joyful, I suppose is the word.

What advice would you give to others interested in volunteering?

There are so many opportunities. You should find the one that you really like. If you don’t like it then your heart is probably not in it. Perhaps do something else. I think you can burn out too. I just do one day a week with Mercy Connect and one day per month with St Vincent de Paul Society as a soup van volunteer. My recommendation would be to go at a pace that you can manage without getting exhausted.

What advice would you give to others interested in volunteering for Mercy Connect at the Dandenong Library?

Come along and have a look. You will find it is a convivial, supportive atmosphere. You will enjoy it immensely and you will feel you have done something useful. We are generously hosted and much appreciated by the library. They give us space. It is a brilliant library.





facebook youtube youtube youtube book