Three uplifting stories

27 Jul

Today’s Sydney Morning Herald tells the story of Zainab Kaabi, seen below at Sydney University.


It is also a story of ESL teacher Dorothy Hoddinott, one of the shapers of the new HSC ESL English course, someone I am proud to say I have met. It is a story of dedication and of the magnificent things that do happen in NSW public education. I offer this as a counterpoint to Miranda.

WITHIN two years of arriving in Sydney, Zainab Kaabi, an asylum seeker from Iran, had learnt English and scored 88 in the Higher School Certificate.

Had it not been for her principal, Dorothy Hoddinott, at Holroyd High School in Greystanes, Ms Kaabi would have been forced to leave school to find a job. The conditions of her temporary visa meant that her welfare payments were to be cut when she turned 18.

Mrs Hoddinott set up a trust fund through donations, called Friends of Zainab, ensuring she would not have to leave school.

“Centrelink phoned her to say that her temporary visa benefit had been cut and that she had to get a job,” Mrs Hoddinott said. “But I couldn’t allow her to leave school. I really hate to see a good mind not given a chance for an education.”

The student’s younger brother, Jafar, had already been forced to leave school to help support the family. She said it had become virtually impossible find education and work opportunities in Iran because her parents, Ikram and Faozi, were born in Iraq. The family were smuggled through Malaysia and spent more than six months at the detention centre in Woomera after arriving in Australia as asylum seekers.

“We couldn’t study there, we had no newspapers or radio and the food was disgusting.”

In Sydney she enrolled in the intensive English centre at Holroyd High School and spent three terms there. After two terms in year 11 she was placed equal third in all her subjects. After the HSC she gained entry to a health sciences degree at Macquarie University but was asked to pay $24,000 in fees.

Mrs Hoddinott paid $9000 from her own pocket for the first semester’s fees.

“It’s a very cruel system,” Mrs Hoddinott said. “Zainab didn’t have any money and needed to go to university, so I put half her first semester fee on my Visa card and the other half on my MasterCard. It wasn’t long before Macquarie University, with the intervention of a lecturer, Dr Noel Tait, paid her fees and refunded me.”

The Friends of Zainab paid a fortnightly allowance to help with living expenses.

When Ms Kaabi was given permanent residency in 2005 the Federal Government did not offer to help pay university fees because she had not had a humanitarian visa. The trust fund came to her rescue again.

This year Ms Kaabi, now aged 24, began a pharmacy degree at the University of Sydney, with support from the trust.

At Holroyd High School, the Friends of Zainab help the 40 per cent of students who are refugees. Four former students are receiving help with university fees.

Magnificent stuff, and Australian multiculturalism at its best. Read Dorothy Hoddinott on the Australian flag as well.

…Holroyd High has been battling for an assembly hall since opening in 1968. Assemblies are held out in the playground in the cold of a western suburbs winter and in the heat of summer. Yet the school has always flown the Australian flag. And the school’s children, many of them Muslim and many from refugee families, demonstrate the best qualities of Australian citizenship.

Dorothy Hoddinott, the principal, has a flag in her office but is sceptical about false or excessive patriotism and annoyed when John Howard and others say the public school system lacks values. Her school is open to children of any race, religion, social or economic class.

She says: “Respect is the core value, respect for yourself, for others, the community, society, respect for differences because there is strength in difference.” She lists as other core values: trust, honesty, the fair go, tolerance and openness. All go towards the teaching of democracy, a notion foreign to many children before they arrived at Holroyd High. “The flag is a symbol but not the substance,” Dorothy Hoddinott says. “It’s right to fly it but it’s not what citizenship is about. It’s about practising the core values.”

The other two stories were on the 7.30 Report which took a political break last night — aside from a very funny Clarke and Dawe on the Great Grey Garden Gnome’s Birthday.

I recommend you read the interview with Sir Ian McKellen, whose King Lear I would love to see. (John Baker in England already has.)

SIR IAN MCKELLEN: There are degrees of coming out. You first come out to yourself and your friends and then hopefully your family, your employee, and your… It’s only when there’s nobody in the world you don’t mind knowing that you’re gay that you can fully say you’re out and that for an actor involves talking to the media about it. And, that’s the bit I hadn’t done and some senior members of my family, too.

But yeah, it took me till 49 and it was only when I’d come out that, at last I could stand up and be my own person and oddly enough, my film career started to take off from that moment on.

And I think the two are connected. I got the self confidence, which is the most important characteristic an actor can develop in himself.

KERRY O’BRIEN: I think you’ve said that you can cry now, that you couldn’t cry as an actor?

SIR IAN MCKELLEN: I used to fake a lot of things, I used to act and now, rather, I’m more likely to be the character rather than to act the character.

KERRY O’BRIEN: That suggests that you weren’t just hiding an identity, you were suppressing emotions as a person?

SIR IAN MCKELLEN: Well, the two go together, you know. If you are concerned not to reveal to the world at large something so important about yourself as your sexuality, it’s bound to affect your ability to be free with your emotions, because when your emotions are free you’re a little bit out of control and if you’re in the closet you have to be in control. That’s why it’s such a horrible, horrible place to be put. And you are put in it. You’re not there of your own accord. People put you in the closet and then you have to fight your way out.

That’s all in the past as far as I’m concerned. But I never mind talking about it, because I know there’s somebody listening, somebody watching and it strikes a chord with them, or maybe their family and things get a bit easier.

You may also view an extended version of that interview on the 7.30 Report site.

The third story is on the African Children’s Choir.

…At the end of this year, these youngsters will return to Africa to attend school, and a new choir will be chosen. Funds raised by the choir pay for the members’ education as well as funding the schooling of thousands of other African children.

RAY BARNETT: There is hope that the children are bright and that the children can help change the world. They’re just grasping at opportunities and wanting to learn and ready to work however hard they need to to achieve results in their life. Out of that choir we have social workers, teachers, everything you could imagine.

GENEVIEVE HUSSEY: Those who’ve been helped by the choir hope they’re paving the way for the next generation and helping build a better Africa.

FLORENCE MARETI: We’ve got to stand for the hope we have in our hearts and tell the young generation, you know, we can make it.

We do need to be reminded, especially these days, of the good that people do.

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Posted by on July 27, 2007 in Aussie interest, Cultural and other, Current affairs, Education, gay life/issues, immigration, Multiculturalism and diversity, Observations


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