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Launch of ESOL Home Tutors 30-year history book

Hon Dr Michael Cullen
Deputy Prime Minister, Attorney-General, Minister of Finance, Minister for Tertiary Education, Leader of the House

5 December 2006 Speech Notes

Launch of ESOL Home Tutors 30-year history book

Speech notes for launch of National Association of ESOL Home Tutors 30-year history book, 192 Tinakori Rd, Thorndon.

Thank you for inviting me to come and join you today.

When we look back at the strands of history it's easy to focus on the great events recorded in the front pages of newspapers, the shifts of power and the flow of tragedy and triumph.

But the strands of history are woven by people.

There is a saying that people are trapped in history, and history is trapped in people.

This is a book with many touching stories about people.

People who came to New Zealand; people who learned English when they arrived.

People such as Sahra Ali who arrived in New Zealand eight years ago from Somalia.

She had learned English in a school in Ethiopia but still found communication difficult when she came here.

She found it hard to understand our accents.

We think we speak with no accent, but in reality our short vowels and dark consonants are hard for someone unaccustomed to them.

Sahra's first tutor worked with her every Saturday for three years.

Her second is still working with her every week.

Without her tutors, she said, "I can’t practise my speaking. I have no-one; I have no other chance of speaking."

Her tutors have helped her with necessities we take for granted.

They helped her with trips to buy cheap clothes for the kids, and going to the library to borrow a book.

Or something as simple as buying a cassette.

She tells the story of going to the shop and saying, ‘I would like to have a cassette.’

But the shopkeeper said, ‘What are you talking about?’

So she went home, wrote down what she wanted to say, and practised the words with her home tutor.

“The next Monday I went to the shop again and say the words, so I bought the cassette."

These are the every day stories of triumph that are actually about life in New Zealand.

The book tells the story of tutors such as Christine Munro who helped migrants and refugees to learn English and settle in.

Christine says in the book the majority of people who require home tutors are women because in lots of refugee situations ... women play the domestic role and they stay at home looking after the kids.

Sometimes they are preliterate. Many of them come from societies where women are repressed.

So who isn't inspired by this observation about the women she works with:

“People make the mistake that because some people don't know English, and maybe have never had a formal education, that they are stupid. Most of them are highly intelligent. They’re survivors. They’re cunning, they’re streetwise and within five minutes they know how everything runs. They know where to go for help, and they have no qualms about asking for help either. It can cause problems, because the women gain this independence they’ve never had before. Suddenly they don’t need that man. If they’ve been having problems with that man in their life, that husband, they don’t need to have him around any more. If he’s badly treating them, there are agencies to sort that out as well.”

The story of the ESOL Home Tutors started more than 30 years ago when volunteers saw a need in the community.

For Beniamino Petrosino, who came to New Zealand from Italy in 1983, volunteering as a home tutor opened new doors.

He now teaches Italian at a Polytech and says without picking up his English skills and getting confidence as a teacher in the ESOL programme he might not even have applied for the position.

ESOL Home Tutors are as much about successful settlement and friendship as they are about teaching English.

Or in the words of the author, “English is only a means to an end; the goal is successful settlement and acceptance by the wider community."

Most of us can only guess at the frustration and obstacles placed in the road of someone arriving in a distant land and unable to communicate easily.

It's hard to make new friends and integrate into society when you are unsure in the tongue of your new home.

It's hard to be accepted in a workplace or gain new skills and networks.

It's hard to keep informed about events and opportunities happening around you when you can't easily read a noticeboard or a newspaper or chat on the phone.

It's hard to buy cheap kids' clothes, join a library or buy a cassette.

We are not a multi-lingual country.

An arrival nearly anywhere in Europe you could find populations fiercely protective about their native languages, but also skilled and fluent in the language of other countries.

In comparison, in New Zealand the burden is almost entirely on a new arrival to adapt to our language.

ESOL Home Tutors give new New Zealanders a new place of belonging and a strong sense of identity.

Last year, nearly 6,500 refugees, asylum seekers and migrants received English language support from over three thousand ESOL Home Tutors.

The government contributes just over $2 million a year to coordinating these services.

But the heavy lifting is done by volunteers.

It is no coincidence today’s event falls on International Volunteer Day.

The day is a United Nations initiative marked throughout the world.

Volunteers make a vital contribution to our social and cultural fabric and to our collective identity.

Your volunteer work and community-based education help achieve stronger and more vibrant communities.

So I acknowledge the enormous contribution ESOL Home Tutors has made to new New Zealanders of diverse cultural backgrounds.

We are a young nation of many diverse peoples and cultures.

I want to pay tribute to the settlers who come to New Zealand.

Building our national identity is a top priority for this government.

New New Zealanders who arrive here bring a richness of culture, like many rivers flowing into the harbour that is our society and refreshing it.

Congratulations to ESOL Home Tutors on the production of your thirty-year history book.

And especially congratulations to Liz Matthews, the author of the book.

I wish you every success in the future and hope that this book will inspire many more New Zealanders to volunteer as tutors and become the learners’ door into New Zealand society.

It is my pleasure now to launch “Settlement through English: a history of ESOL Home Tutors”.

Thank you


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