Job training for school-aged refugees

Taw Taw Sanba at his favourite spot on the river at Werribee Park. Photo by Sylvia Kovacevic.
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A school-based apprenticeship at Werribee Plains Gardens is among the job training initiatives helping young refugees adapt to language, lifestyle and education challenges in Australia, writes Sylvia Kovacevic.

Job training while at school is helping young refugees adapt to language, lifestyle and education challenges in Australia.

Taw Taw Sanba, 17, an ethnic Karen from Burma, is undertaking a school-based apprenticeship at Werribee Plains Gardens for his Year 12 VCAT certificate.

“I like animals and plants, so I said to my teacher, ‘Find me something to do with animals and plants,’ and they found horticulture,” he says.

Werribee Plains Area Chief Ranger James Brincat says the apprenticeship has enabled Taw Taw Sanba to attend school while also spending a day learning about horticulture.

Brincat says keeping young refugees in school was a challenge because they “find it so hard”.

A report issued last year by the Australian Bureau of Statistics – titled Outcomes for Vocational Education and Training in School Students – traced outcomes for disadvantaged youth who had received job training at school.

The report found they had better job prospects the longer they stayed in school.

A 2012 repport from The Brotherhood of St Laurence also found that many refugees find adjusting to language to be a challenge, as well as finding the finances to study.

Sanba said that when he first arrived in Australia aged 10 he had “no English”.

“It was horrible. They thought I already know English, I don’t know why, just put me to school.”

Mission Australia’s 2015 Review of Homelessness has found that “young people from refugee backgrounds are six to 10 times more likely to be at risk of homelessness than Australian-born young people”.

The report says that understanding rental agreements and rights is something young refugees need help with.

Taw Taw Sanba at his favourite spot on the river at Werribee Park. picture credit Sylvia Kovacevic
Taw Taw Sanba at his favourite spot on the river at Werribee Park. Photo by Sylvia Kovacevic.

Sanba lives with his older sister, and says they have had difficulty with renting in the past and the last place they lived had a “leaky tap the landlord wouldn’t fix”.

Their widowed mother lives four hours away in Nhill, in western Victoria.

She is one of 170 Karen refugees who was found work by AMES Australia, a refugee resettlement agency, at the Luv-A-Duck Factory.

“Mum helps, she works and pays the bills. Mum knows I never ask for money, but if she doesn’t give money I’m pretty sure I’ll die,” Sanba says.

He described a recent stay in hospital for an eye operation with fondness “because they feed you there”.

“We used to eat lions and tigers in Burma to survive.”

Sanba’s ultimate ambition is to be a zoologist: “If I keep continue and get more studying I might be able to go to uni, but I’m not sure.”