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Breaking barriers . . . Tutoring migrants in conversational English is (from left) Ruth Davison, with students Ian Chan and Fatini Zulkifli. PHOTO: RUBY HEYWARD

The Waitaki Newcomers Network and Migrant Support group is on the lookout for more volunteers to help facilitate English classes for migrants in Oamaru.

The Waitaki Multicultural Council, which oversees the network and support group, has started evening one-on-one English buddy programmes to meet an increasing demand for English assistance within the community.

Volunteer Linton Winder had noticed fellow members struggling with the language and offered to help set up and tutor classes in February 2019.

The classes had been such a hit that complimentary conversational classes were introduced in October last year and, after two weeks, they had “outgrown” their space at the Oamaru Public Library.

Waitaki Newcomers Network and Migrant Support co-ordinator Christine Dorsey said part of the demand arose from the inability of non-residents to access the English classes provided by Literacy Aotearoa. The classes were funded only for permanent residents.

Mrs Dorsey said the language barrier was one of the biggest challenges faced by migrants.

“If you can’t speak English very well the isolation can be immense,” she said.

“If the communication is there, the whole community opens up.”

Many of the present volunteer tutors were part of the newcomers network, but Mrs Dorsey was hoping to attract more volunteers from the community.

“I don’t do it single-handed. I rely on the support from fabulous people and volunteers,” she said.

The classes were not just about improving English, they were important for maintaining the mother tongue for people who had migrated, she said.

It was also important for children who spoke English at school to have time at home dedicated to speaking their native language.

The sessions allowed for additional time for parents to practise without compromising their child’s ability to communicate with family overseas.

Originally from the United Kingdom, tutor Ruth Davison said the sessions offered a safe space for people to practise and make connections with other people.

As a previous newcomer to Waitaki herself, Mrs Davison said the group allowed people to become part of an instant community.

“What Christine does makes the difference between people feeling isolated and leaving, or part of the community and settling,” she said.

The classes were free of charge and new students were always welcome.