New light on young refugees

Students display their artwork completed in the UCan2 program. Photo by Paige Conway.
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A program for refugee students at Keysborough College is providing insights on their experiences. Paige Conway reports.

Keysborough College is gaining insight into the lives of refugee students through new social and educational programs, according to a welfare coordinator at the school.

The college’s welfare coordinator, Gillian Green, says the Ucan2 program aims to assist and support recently arrived young people of refugee backgrounds, aged 16-25.

“The program aims to foster cooperation between education, social support, training and employment services to refugee students that have experienced a large degree of torture and trauma.”

Green says the program is delivered through a partnership between Foundation House, Centre for Multicultural Youth and Australian Multicultural Education Services, operating once a week for 16 consecutive weeks.

Debra Stanway, coordinator of Ucan2 at Keysborough College, says the program is always run with the intention  of looking at wellbeing, focusing on social, mental and emotional health issues.

“The program is fully mapped out with trained facilitators who are either psychologists or have backgrounds in social work.”

Students display their artwork completed in the UCan2 program. Photo by Paige Conway.

Stanway says although the program is highly beneficial, there are some big issues that need to be addressed.

“Timetabling issues arise where students miss class every Tuesday.  This can be incredibly counteractive if students are, for example, missing their English language class,” Stanway says.

Green says some resistance towards the program is experienced as the students have a valid fear and distrust of support services.

“The students have a great deal of internal conflict from difficult experiences.  They are used to members of authority previously saying they will help them, who don’t. That is why it is so important that we show these students we are a safe place.”

Green says that the students have also provided a lot of insight on the conditions in the refugee camps. “The students tell us they felt safe at the camps and that they would like to go back there.  They regularly talk about the sense of belonging they had and the community that was built,” Green says.

Stanway says she aims to nominate refugee students to the program a lot earlier so they can recreate a subject for the program that is integrated in their course selection.

“These kids have needs and they don’t understand the system so the program we are tailoring aims to provide these social connections and networks as well as mental health and wellbeing support,” she says.