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Telling our little stories

19 January 2021, Voices from the Field

How young migrants found connection in the time of COVID

When the Live and Learn Program offered the chance for young, newly arrived migrants and refugees to create and publish a book telling their stories in their own voices, it tapped a deep well of need to share and connect. Then COVID hit, throwing the best laid plans into turmoil.

Living and learning in a new country…

Based in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, the Live and Learn Program provides a space for newly arrived migrants to settle into their lives in Australia; helping them build their English language prowess, learn new life skills and find community and friendship through shared experience. Many participants are refugees, who have had to flee their homes due to conflict.  Lexie and Marc are two youth workers who facilitate Save the Children’s contribution to the program, connecting with participants through storytelling and creative expression.


An excerpt from Our Little Stories, written by Avleen, who wrote about her passion for drawing. 

 

Making the connection…

The program got off to a good start in early 2020, but by March it was forced to a halt, due to the global pandemic

Marc did just one face-to-face visit with participants before the program was thrown into turmoil. “I met some of the young people with Lexie, and then we went into lockdown. For a while we weren’t able to do much, then we started the outreach program with Kangan Institute”, he recalls.

Thanks to the wonders of technology, they were able to adapt by joining an existing Zoom call — a “Drop-in Session” — to meet with students in an online environment. 

Finding a voice…

Lexie and Marc work with participants as they investigate the “stories that shape us”, giving them the opportunity to use skills learned in their Youth English classes at Kangan Institute. Students write stories or draw pictures to express their experiences and are often reflective of their resilience in the face of change. 

Some students told comprehensive stories of what life was like before they came to Australia, while others found the writing task challenging and decided to interview each other. As a tribute to the student’s adaptability during a period of unprecedented ‘online learning’, the group decided to collate the stories into a book – Our Little Stories. 


The students selected an illustration by classmate Avleen to feature on the front cover of Our Little Stories. 

 

Telling our little stories…

The notion of a published book, containing their own stories and voices, was a big motivator for the students. “Before we would just go in and speak to them at the campus,” Lexi says, “now they will message, like at lunchtime on a Tuesday, and say I just had a great idea for the book!”

Lexi says,

We didn’t want any part of this to be as if you’re writing an essay and being graded on your English skills… it’s about getting your point across in a way that makes sense to you.

Lexi

Students wrote about their lives before they came to Australia, their families, and what they appreciated about their new homes. Some drew pictures of what they hoped to achieve in the future, and others shared photos from home and favourite places they had travelled.

Once produced, Marc and Lexi were able to deliver printed copies of Our Little Stories. They donned COVID-safe equipment and visited the students — many of the whom they were meeting in person for the first time. Lexi laughs as she recalls one drop-off, where after a brief moment of confusion, the student excitedly called out “Lexi? From the computer?!” After months in lockdown, their visits were a welcome surprise.

The youth workers have watched students gain confidence and help each other to navigate the program. 

In times of lock-down you feel so isolated, but it’s nice to know that so many other people are going through the same thing as you, as well as moving or migrating from a different country. I think a lot of people made a lot of friendships through it.

Marc

Telling Our Little Stories provided connection and friendship in a time of extreme uncertainty, whilst building on practical skills to help the young migrants and refugees feel more at home in their new communities. Both Marc and Lexie hope to see the program continue in the future, with many more stories told.


An excerpt from Our Little Stories, written by Valentina, who wrote about her hope for the future. 

 

The program is funded by the Department of Home Affairs and supported by Kangan Institute, Banksia Gardens Community Services, Kenley Court Neighbourhood House, BVLGARI and Save the Children.

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