Dialog Box

CatholicCare Victoria

Changing communities; Changing lives

The year 2020 has brought with it many challenges.

Right now, vulnerable families and individuals in our community are struggling as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Anxiety; job loss; studying from home... 

But as we emerge from a post-COVID world, our volunteers will be there to support these families and individuals to get back on their feet.

This week as we celebrate National Volunteer Week (18-24 May) with the theme “Changing communities; Changing lives”, we would like to thank our volunteers and acknowledge how they are changing communities and changing lives for the better.

Volunteers Tony and Maureen

Four years ago, CatholicCare placed an advertisement in the St Patrick’s parish news bulletin, calling for volunteers to help run a new English conversation class for newly arrived refugees and migrants in Pakenham.

Maureen McDonagh, in search of a new volunteer placement, saw the ad and eagerly applied. In discussion with friend Tony O’Connell about the role, she convinced him to apply too, and since that day they have never looked back.

To mark National Volunteer Week, we spoke with Tony and Maureen about their volunteer experience as English tutors.

Photo: CatholicCare Pakenham English Conversation Group

Tell us a bit about the Pakenham English Conversation Group you run?

Maureen: The group provides free English conversation classes to new migrants, to improve their English conversation skills. 

Tony: It is designed for adult migrants in need of exposure to conversational English. We usually get between 10 - 15 participants each week. The diversity of the group has grown significantly, with migrants from at least nine different countries including: Mauritius, Sri Lanka, India, Africa, Afghanistan, China, Taiwan, Uruguay, Japan and Iran.

How does the group operate in terms of learning methodology/activities? 

Tony: Conversation is the intent, therefore the class centres around everyday activities and conversation including travel, shopping, housework and social activities. This is to help identify the words, phrases and constructions necessary to help everyday language understandable and less challenging. 

What are some of the positive impacts you see the English conversation program having on participants? 

Tony: The group provides a safe place to learn and make mistakes. It’s a positive environment where participants enjoy learning, fun and laughter together. The class has become a social event for them. For many of the attendees, it provides an opportunity to verify how their English is going.  Some show marked results, not only in language progress but in confidence to give it a go. It’s great to see the strong bonds and friendships formed across the diverse cultures of the students.

Maureen: The participants have gained confidence over the time they have attended, and many have formed strong friendships, and contact one another between classes. They’ve come to support one another in various life and family situations such as children’s schoolwork, health issues, celebrating news of new grandchildren or children and seeing new places and activities.

Overall they have gained confidence in their language and social skills, and the class atmosphere is always fun and uplifting. 

How has your volunteer experience benefited or enriched you personally? 

Tony: The classes have given me a chance to experience people from diverse cultural backgrounds. Meeting people with language barriers offers a powerful opportunity to discover ways to enable and facilitate communication. The sharing of our common humanity is our starting point and what rises to the surface is an opportunity to simply love each other a bit. This type of learning atmosphere has ensured that language learning has freely taken place in a relationally uplifting environment – and to be part of the facilitating team with Maureen and Sarah has been a true blessing to me.

Maureen: I really enjoy our time together and having the opportunity to get to know a little of other cultures and faith backgrounds. I am inspired at the respect they have for each other and the trust that has developed between them. They welcome each newcomer warmly and make them feel at home. They are happy and share their talents freely – singing, dancing, art, cooking and recipes. 
They are grateful for the opportunities that Australia offers them and their families. I admire their courage and wish that the whole world could function like our little multicultural group. The freedom they feel to be able to express themselves in a safe atmosphere has been created by the way Tony leads the class. He respects everyone and has a genuine interest in each person.

Thank you, volunteers

The contribution you make each and every day is changing lives for the better.

We thank not only our own volunteers at CatholicCare, but all the volunteers in our community who are dedicating their time to make the world a fairer, safer, and happier place.


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18 May 2020
Category: uncategorised