St Mary’s: Being Hospitable to Immigrants in the Papakura Community
A group from St Mary’s parish in Papakura meet weekly to support immigrant women from the wider community to learn English. Mary Thorne, a leader of the group, (pictured on left below) said ‘We are Christian women who welcome all faiths into our group. We refer to festivals and symbols from different faiths and cultures in our discussions.
Mary said a priest identified had thirty four nationalities in Papakura during his visiting. She said ‘immigrants are keen to learn English and may have a good knowledge of the language, but are not confident to use it. We support them to learn basic English’.
When the group started scripture was used as a text for learning. Mary said ‘this is not used now as the focus is on what is useful. Scripture phrasing is often literary and may not apply to the practical issues families face when they immigrate.’ She said:
'Classes are often based on questions people bring and specific issues they face. Someone may bring a letter from the local council or a child’s homework question or a rental agreement – all sorts of questions come up. The classes are very much about giving confidence and encouragement to women. For example, assuring them that teachers will be pleased to see them at school and it doesn’t matter if their English not perfect'.
The group is a safe place where the women can start to use English and have it responded to in a safe and affirming environment. Some of the practical support includes accompanying someone with a rental negotiation and helping with immigration applications. They might act out how to manage at a job interview. Mary has done a lot of work to support permanent residency applications, especially for Chilean people. Mary often writes references for people and attests that they have been attending English language classes. Beyond these immigration issues the St Mary’s group have accompanied people through marriage breakdowns, deaths, antenatal classes and they welcome new babies into their midst. The parish play group is next door so there can be link with that too.
At the meetings discussions range from talking about the seasons, festivals, community events and cooking. Jenny Glen, a co-ordinator of the group (pictured on right, below) picked up on the importance of food preparation for women and said 'people might bring ingredients to assist with New Zealand cooking and learning about measurements and the names of food. Sometimes people bring ethnic ingredients and make new meals such as briani and spring roles. Bt, from Iraq made dolma and turkish delight'.
The meeting Betsan attended for the Manaaki Hapori was in the Autumn, near Easter so some of the discussion was on Easter symbols: the cross, eggs, chicks,rabbits, and hot cross buns.
There is much to learn from the participants. Zina (left picture in middle) is from Iraq and she explained that her language is Assyrian because she is Christian, whereas Muslim Iraqi people speak Arabic. There are others who speak Assyrian in Papakura and she enjoys meeting with them. Pavithra (pictured in middle of photo) is from Sri Lanka and she explained the varied seasons in Sri Lanka and that in the mountains it can be very cold. She also said ‘In Sri Lanka we worked and had friends, but now we don’t have that.’
Rosanne Wills (pictured left) is Pastoral Associate and looks after all the needs of the parish. She said sometimes men come to the group but isolation is felt keenly by women and that more women come because of time of meeting. She noted that men often get help in speaking English.
The group started fifteen or sixteen years ago to respond to Korean, Taiwanese and Mainland Chinese women living in Papakura. Many of these women were living alone and with children in schools there was a need to support their education. While the countries that women are from changes over time the issues are similar for immigrants who experience the loss of wider family and community networks. Mary noted:
'Family life and religious celebrations are carried out in large big vibrant communities for people from other places so it is a significant loss when find yourself in a small nuclear family or small group in the new situation'.
The women who come for support for learning English appreciate being able to join in this community activity and look forward to special occasions such as an annual English class meal for a wider gathering of families and friends.
Mary Thorne <email@example.com>
For information on parish initiatives visited for the NZCCSS Manaaki Hapori project, contact:
Phone: 04 473 2627 / 021-388-337