If you are a refugee there are not many places to look to for empathy at the moment. SPARK, an early intervention project for newly arrived refugee children that runs through St Vincent de Paul, is one of them.
SPARK is government-funded and runs from schools with a high migrant concentration to provide communication between a particularly marginalised group of children and mainstream society. It uses one-on-one volunteer tutoring to provide homework help for newly arrived refugee children and a caring voice that might hear about their day or simply play games.
Honi spoke with Aishu Balaji, a Sydney University student and tutor with SPARK, who said that the value of the project lay in a simple offer of a positive relationship with the child. Not only that, but also insight into and knowledge of Australian life: “Children who grow up in Australia have the benefit of parents who have been through the same experience”. She says that while these parents are doing fantastic jobs as parents, they sometimes lack the requisite knowledge about growing up in Australia that these children may need. In addition to that, a friendly face from Australia itself can be a hugely beneficial first step in connecting with a new community.
If the purpose of the program is to aid this connection, the children themselves seem to be giving plenty of ammunition. Aishu describes them as overwhelmingly normal – happy and energetic, where the biggest problem is making them sit down for a full twenty minutes to do homework. When asked about reaction from these children about the ‘debate’ over asylum seekers, Aishu assured Honi that it wasn’t a political space and the debates that dominated the conversation usually did centre on maths homework.
SPARK has had a great number of volunteers step up for the project, but is dealing with a demand that currently outstrips that number. For any students that are willing to give up their time once a week, they can contact SPARK on 02 9568 0280, or through the website. From all accounts it sounds like an excellent program.
Images courtesy of SPARK.