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From refugee to volunteer and now aspiring electrician

For many, TAFE is a hub for those seeking skills, confidence and inspiration to take their next steps in life.

For Kwe Kaw, 19, of Karen heritage, Bendigo TAFE was an opportunity to gain all the above and to give back to the local Karen community as a volunteer in the English program, an experience that eventually led to his current studies in electrotechnology.

His journey began in early 2021 when he learnt about the role of community volunteers at Bendigo TAFE while discussing options at the Skills and Jobs Centre located on campus.

“I wanted to participate, get out of my comfort zone and do something I’ve never done before,” he said.

The perfect volunteer role emerged as a teacher assistant in Bendigo TAFE’s English as an Additional Language (EAL) course – a role that resonated deeply with Kwe’s Karen cultural heritage. Funded by the Australian Government’s Adult Migrant English Program, the EAL course provides free English language lessons to eligible migrants and humanitarian entrants.

“I was born in Thailand and lived in the Mae-la refugee camp until I moved to Australia in 2011 he said.

“My role as a volunteer was to help teachers with translating for Karen students. I also got to help students of other nationalities in activities like card games, bingo, writing, reading and more.”

Armed with new friendships, increased confidence and greater insight to training options at Bendigo TAFE, Kwe enrolled in the Certificate II in Electrotechnology (Pre-Vocational) in July and is currently pursuing his goal to become an electrician.

National Student Volunteer Week celebrations across the country offered an opportunity for Kwe to reflect on all he has gained as a volunteer.

“I have enjoyed this volunteering program. My confidence grew and I learnt new skills and experiences,” he said.

“I am grateful to all and I appreciate all the teachers who were so welcoming to me."

Bendigo TAFE’s community volunteer program invites members of the community to volunteer at the TAFE in roles like teacher assistants or campus guides.

It runs alongside the TAFE’s student volunteer and volunteer mentor programs – all aimed at supporting people who seek meaningful avenues for personal growth while contributing to the community.

To-date 60 volunteers have participated in these programs, leaving lasting impressions on those whom they have assisted. In English as an Additional Language (EAL) classrooms alone, volunteer assistants have contributed over 1,000 hours of support.

Bendigo TAFE English Teacher Angela Molloy said the assistance provided by EAL program volunteers was highly appreciated.

“It was great to have Kwe as a volunteer. He used his initiative and came to offer his services. He is very proud of his Karen heritage and realised that he could be of service to his people at TAFE,” Ms Molloy said.

“Volunteers in the EAL program provide great assistance, especially if they speak the students’ language. In Kwe’s case, more than 85 per cent of the class are Karen speakers.

“It allows a teacher to work individually with a student and be aware that there is another person in the room to keep an eye out, to perhaps explain instructions again, or just to be another point of reference”.

“Volunteers also provide their own perspectives, from their lived experience. Often they can relate directly to the students’ experiences – which the teacher may or may not be able to do.”

National Student Volunteer Week runs from 9-15 August 2021. To learn more about Bendigo TAFE’s volunteer program, visit www.bendigotafe.edu.au/volunteers. ​

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