Powerful refugee stories at Mamre House ceremony

Celebrating the achievements of English language course participants.
The student body is mostly comprised of refugee women from South Sudan and Sudan. Photo: Jordan Grantham.

By Jordan Grantham

Bishop Vincent Long visited Mamre House on the morning of 7 December 2016 for an English Language Program end-of-year ceremony. The program, Certificate in Spoken and Written English, is a certified program of Nepean Community College and delivered by Mamre House, a work of CatholicCare Social Services in the Diocese of Parramatta.

Photos: Diocese of Parramatta/Jordan Grantham.

Nepean Community College provides two teachers who are assisted by seven volunteer teachers provided by Mamre.

As the women attain the various competencies, they progress through Preliminary and Levels 1, 2 and 3.

All the women were presented with certificate for competencies achieve this year and about a dozen women moved to the next level.

The student body is mostly comprised of refugee women from South Sudan and Sudan, who wore spectacular colourful dresses from their culture. They shared powerful stories of hope and survival amid the chaos of Sudan’s civil war and starting a new life in Australia.

Sr Janet Woods RSM, the Mamre Refugee Coordinator, said because of the war, the majority of the women had never been to school before coming to Australia.

These families have since flourished, with many of the women’s children present for the occasion. Mamre House crèche cares for many of the children while the mothers have their English lessons.

The children from the crèche performed The Little Drummer Boy with great enthusiasm, which was particularly poignant at the lines “I am a poor boy too / I have no gift to bring.” The children continued playing the drums well after the song had finished.

Bishop Vincent presented certificates to the children who will be starting school next year and congratulated all the participants of the Refugee Program.

“This place has lived up to its name Mamre, because it is a very biblical place where Abraham and Sarah found welcome and hospitality on their journey, their pilgrimage of faith to the Promised Land,” he said.

“This place is also a place of welcome and hospitality, provided to pilgrims; we are all pilgrims in this world.

“I am touched by what is happening here to our visitors and the women from South Sudan. Their testimonies are a credit to the volunteers and staff,” Bishop Vincent said.

A small boy presented Bishop Vincent with a large, hand-drawn Christmas card. The boy presenting was enraptured by the card and needing coaxing to let go.

Several of the women in the program spoke about their experiences, demonstrating their progress in English, to the delight of friends and supporters.

One of the women said she had not heard of Australia and found it difficult to believe that she was leaving Sudan. She pestered her husband about whether their departure was really true, to which he replied: “If you don’t believe it, why don’t we catch the plane and see where we are going?”

This was her first flight. On previous international trips, they walked up to 15 days to cross borders.

She said she appreciated the assistance provided by the Australian Government, Mamre House and the kindness of strangers.

Then Jamila spoke, sharing her admirable work ethic, which includes rising at 4am to work as a cleaner, going to English class in the day and working at night, while raising five children.

Patrick Sproule is a 20-year-old volunteer and film student at JMC Academy. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do in my course, teaching was a good idea and this was a nice way to try teaching,” the Warragamba parishioner said.

Sr Jo Ann Power DC is another English teacher. “I am in admiration of their courage and their humility, coming here to learn and of the energy they put into their studies,” she said.

Sr Jo is inspired by the women’s sense of peace: “their total acceptance and cheerfulness, despite any struggles they may have experienced.”

CatholicCare Social Services Executive members, including Executive Director Joe Cashman, were present for this important day in the Mamre House program.

For more information about Mamre House or CatholicCare Social Services, click here.

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