Mercy Connect is blessed with volunteer mentors who are dedicated and committed to a better future for young refugees and asylum seekers struggling to adjust to school and life in a new country. Although most mentors are former teachers, others come from a range of backgrounds including scientists, engineers, journalists, nurses, university students and successful business owners, just to name a few. While their career and life experience may be diverse, the volunteers are united through their passion and determination to assist in making a meaningful change in the lives of these vulnerable young people.
This highly effective program was established to break down the barriers that refugee and asylum seeker students face as they settle into the Australian education system. As a testament to its success, over the past 12 years Mercy Connect has expanded to several Catholic and State primary and secondary schools in Sydney, Melbourne, Ballarat, Bendigo and Perth. Key to achieving the program aims is the personal connection made between the mentor and the student based on mutual trust and respect.
The interruption over the last few months caused by the coronavirus pandemic to normal schooling has been more detrimental to those students who were already experiencing difficulties – among them those from asylum seeker and refugee backgrounds. As schools begin to open up again, the need for the valuable work of our Mercy Connect volunteer mentors is therefore greater than ever.
It comes as no surprise then that our volunteers cannot wait to get back to mentoring their students for the remainder of the school year. The volunteers know that their support provides a settling influence on these young students. Such support makes a difference to the ability of the students to learn, and most importantly, adapt to the reality of living in a whole new culture and a new way of life.
Why do Mercy Connect Volunteers keep coming back?
Four mentors offer an insight into their experience
Gordon was reading through his local parish bulletin and came across an advertisement for volunteers in a small program called Mercy Connect. After retiring as a teacher, this was just what Gordon was looking for to keep his connection to education and continue his love of teaching. For Gordon, being able to support the class teacher at St. Anthony’s Primary with small group work and supporting individual students to ensure they are enjoying and understanding the lessons is by far the greatest reward. His shared respect for the teacher with their daily commitment to the mission of education is something that only grows each day. And that is why five years later, Gordon is still just as excited to be volunteering with Mercy Connect as he was on his first day.
“I hadn’t expected to enjoy it so much,” says Jim, a retired manufacturing engineer who joined the Mercy Connect program in 2019. Jim responded to a Mercy Connect advertisement in the Sydney Morning Herald and, after completing training, found himself mentoring high school students at Trinity College, Auburn. Jim works mostly with senior students and even during the COVID-19 shutdown period, has maintained contact with his students through a WhatsApp group monitored by the Trinity In-School Coordinator, Anne. Jim reflects on what is most enjoyable about his role: “Sure, I help the students with decoding their assignments and work with them on their maths problems, but the real thrill comes from helping a young man understand what the Australian culture is.”
Four years ago, Isabel was actively searching for a way to give back to her community that also gave her the opportunity to continue to use her experience in high school education. It was through the Volunteering WA website that Isabel found Mercy Connect. Her background in teaching English as a Second Language fits right in with the needs of Mercy Connect Perth as a volunteer at Dianella Secondary School. Witnessing the improvement in the students she is mentoring has been an incredibly rewarding experience for her, especially so as a former school teacher.
Early last year, Marguerite came across a notice asking for volunteers for the local Mercy Connect program in Ballarat. She has now been volunteering at Ballarat Christian College for 12 months. Her love and passion for volunteering has continued to grow as she sees the real difference that she is making in the lives of the students she mentors. Though she has only been with Mercy Connect for a short time, she describes the growth and development of the foundational skills and learning of the students as “an honour and privilege to be a part of.”
Published with collaboration from Mercy Works.