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Andrew Elchah

Andrew Elchah is a teacher at Bankstown Secondary College working in the Intensive English Centre (BIEC) with mature age refugees and this is his story.

He has worked at the IEC for 4 years and is in the process of finishing his Graduate Certificate in TESOL at Macquarie University which he hopes will further his career within the field.

Andrew works with young people who have just arrived in Australia, mostly refugees from war torn countries such as Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Vietnam and Sierra Leone, with varying ability in their English language skills. Many have suffered some form of trauma or have learning difficulties. If fortunate enough to enrol at BIEC, within 1 year they could go from speaking no English to being able to make a speech in front of a room of people.

He says it has really puts things in to perspective for him. “Every morning they arrive at the school with a massive smile and thirst for knowledge.”  Working with his students has made him realise how truly lucky he was to be born in Australia.

“They have had a tough start but my students are eager to learn, eager to do the work and when it clicks in their heads they just run with it.”

I know that what they learn in class they also take home to teach their families. Recently, we participated in a TAFE taster program that exposes students to what life would be like if they chose to continue their study at TAFE. One student was able to teach his mother how to correctly give first aid to someone who wasn’t breathing and unconscious. 

As well as teaching English, the Intensive English Centre also gives students orientation to life in Australia. Andrew’s special focus has been embracing inclusion in Australian society through sport. The program is assisted by AFLNSW/ACT. It takes place over 5-6 weeks, with coaches coming in once a week, and teaching the students basic AFL skills. The students use their AFL skills to participate in the IEC Cup, a one day carnival run between IEC schools throughout Sydney.

It was because of Andrew’s involvement in both English teaching and the AFL sports inclusion program that he was rewarded a Phelan Medal Harmony Award for 2017.

The first 2 years Andrew was only able to encourage the male students to participate in the event, but recently there has been a growing interest with the female students. Which has been great.

Some of the female students are even falling in love with the game and are going to AFL games and supporting the GWS Giants.

Andrew himself has played AFL with the Western Suburbs Magpies for the last 10 years and some of his students are following suit joining the club with the sister team, the Wolves.

His own proudest sporting moment was winning the Division 5 Grand Final this year, and as a late bloomer to the sport, he says it has definitely been worth the wait.

His advice to future students: learning English as a second language can be a little disheartening at the start but stick with it. Learning English as a second language is a small step on a long journey in your new country but it is worth it for the opportunities that will open up for you.