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Early childhood centre boost for refugees

Early childhood centre boost for refugees

AUT’s revamped early childhood education centre at Mangere is a vital step in the healing process for new immigrant families, says centre manager Maria Hayward.

The facility, part of AUT’s Centre for Refugee Education at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre, was officially opened by Mangere MP Taito Phillip Field yesterday – World Refugee Day.

About 200 people attended the opening, including tangata whenua, representatives from the Ministry of Education, AUT, New Zealand Immigration Service, the refugee community and centre staff.

Ms Hayward says the centre is more than just a preschool, it’s a focal point in helping refugee families settle into their new country.

“Many people who come here have been living in artificial environments like refugee camps, some for up to ten years.

“Others have come directly from countries like Afghanistan, where survival is a daily ordeal - where there is the constant danger of children stepping on landmines, and where women struggle to run a household.

“Mothers may spend all day fetching water, preparing food, doing the family’s washing, dealing with perpetual dust and little or no electricity. Now, at the centre, they can have quiet time doing something for themselves and their little children, and start the healing process.”

For this process, she says, it is important that the environment is safe – physically and psychologically. Mothers realise they can relax, learn and spend time with their children again.

The development has taken 18 months. The existing building has been extended with a new kitchen and deck, more play space, better sleeping and toilet facilities, and a family room which doubles as a small classroom.

AUT Vice Chancellor Derek McCormack says the centre is a practical symbol of the university’s commitment to families in resettlement.

“The two key design features sum up AUT’s aspirations. The family-friendly nature of the design means mothers can be with their little ones and families can be together. The community aspect of the centre allows people to gather, share and learn together.”

He says AUT’s Centre for Refugee Education epitomises three of the university’s objectives: the belief that everyone deserves the opportunity to learn and be educated; reinforcing Aotearoa’s importance as a land of peace and welcoming; and the strength of partnerships and collaboration between government, community groups and people.

The refurbishment was funded by the Ministry of Education.

AUT’s Centre for Refugee Education is a department of the School of Languages in the Faculty of Applied Humanities. AUT provides a six week, on–arrival programme for refugees who come to New Zealand under the government quota scheme (currently 750 people per year). The refugees live on site at the New Zealand Immigration Service hostel and attend the AUT reception classes Monday to Friday.

Maria Hayward has worked in the field of refugee education in New Zealand, for over 15 years. Her current research interests lie in the provision of refugee on-arrival education worldwide, refugee resettlement issues, and refugee education.

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